Fanakalo is a vernacular or pidgin based primarily on Zulu, with English and a small Afrikaans input. It is used as a lingua franca, mainly in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mining industries in South Africa and to a lesser extent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Although it is used as a second language only, the number of speakers was estimated as "several hundred thousand" in 1975. Once the British left, English became the lingua franca enabling different tribes in the same country to communicate with each other, and Fanakalo use declined.

Pidgin Zulu
RegionSouthern Africa
Native speakers
Several hundred thousand L2 speakers each in South Africa and Zimbabwe (1975)[1]
  • Chilapalapa
  • Cikabanga
Language codes
ISO 639-3fng

Fanakalo is the only Zulu-based pidgin language, and is a rare example of a pidgin based on an indigenous language rather than on the language of a colonising or trading power.

The variety in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) is known as Chilapalapa and is influenced by Shona, while the variety in Zambia (Northern Rhodesia), called Cikabanga[4] (pronounced, and sometimes spelt, Chikabanga), is influenced by Bemba.


The name "Fanakalo" comes from strung-together Nguni forms fana-ga-lo meaning "like + of + that" and has the meaning "do it like this", reflecting its use as a language of instruction. Other spellings of the name include Fanagalo and Fanekolo. It is also known as Isikula, Lololo or Isilololo, Piki or Isipiki, and Silunguboi.

As the indigenous people from whom Fanagalo originated traditionally had no written language, the orthography of Fanagalo is not standardized; for example, the sounds of W and B are very close[clarification needed].

Like Turkish, Fanagalo is characterized by certain amount of vowel harmony, wherein a vowel in a prefix is changed according to the subsequent vowel. In the Nguni tongues, the prefix Mu- or Ma- denotes the singular, while Bu- or Ba- signifies the plural – hence Muntu = a man; Bantu = men, particularly when applied to tribes, e.g. Ma-tabele. Similarly, the prefix Chi- or Si- indicates the language spoke by that tribe. e.g. men of the Lozi tribe are called Ba-rotse (spelling is not standardized), and they speak Si-lozi; Bembas speak Chiwemba; Tswanas live in Botswana, formerly called Bechuanaland.

Chi-lapa-lapa thus is the "language" derived from lapa = "there", with reduplication for emphasis.

History and usageEdit

Fanagalo is one of a number of African pidgin languages that developed during the colonial period to promote ease of communication. Adendorff (2002) suggests that it developed in the nineteenth century in KwaZulu-Natal Province as a way for English colonists to communicate with their servants and was also used as a lingua franca between English and Dutch/Afrikaans speaking colonists.

Fanagalo was used extensively in gold and diamond mines because the South African mining industry employed workers on fixed contracts from across southern and central Africa: including Congo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique. With workers originating from a range of countries and having a vast range of different mother tongues, Fanagalo provided a simple way to communicate and is still used as a training and operating medium. Fifteen hours instruction was considered sufficient for an initiate to become reasonably fluent. See Witwatersrand Native Labour Association.

Adendorff describes two variants of the language, Mine Fanagalo and Garden Fanagalo. The latter name refers to its use with servants in households. It was previously known as Kitchen Kaffir. (The term "kaffir" tended, in Southern Africa, to be used as a derogatory term for black people, and is now considered extremely offensive. It is derived from the Arab word Kafir, meaning unbeliever.[5])

In the mid-20th century in South Africa there were Government efforts to promote and standardise Fanagalo as a universal second language, under the name of "Basic Bantu".

In contrast, mining companies in the early 21st century have attempted to phase out Fanagalo in favour of the pre-existing, local languages. Ravyse (2018) discusses Fanagalo's apparent resistance to opposing official policy, in spite of its ongoing stigma as a language for the illiterate. Fanagalo has become intertwined with the culture of the mining industry, and its continuation seems to hinge on the ongoing favour of its speaking community, rather than industry policy.

Mining aside, Adendorff also suggests that Fanagalo has unfavourable and negative connotations for many South Africans. However, he raises the point that Fanagalo is sometimes used between white South Africans, particularly expatriates, as a signal of South African origin and a way of conveying solidarity in an informal manner. That role has of late largely been taken over by Afrikaans; even among English speaking South African expatriates.[6]

In the latter half of the 20th century, holiday makers from the Rhodesias often used to go on holiday to Lourenço Marques in Mozambique (now Maputo), where many people speak Portuguese – but most also spoke a form of Fanagalo.

All three languages are currently experiencing a revival in their popularity as a lingua franca, now freed from connotations of "colonialism" and valued for their intrinsic usefulness.[7]

Rhodesian comedian Wrex Tarr was famous for routines that make extensive use of Chilapalapa.

Language features and variantsEdit

Mine Fanagalo in South Africa and Zimbabwe is based mostly on Zulu vocabulary (about 70%), with English (about 25%) and some words from Afrikaans (5%). It does not have the range of Zulu inflections, and it tends to follow English word order.

Adendorff describes Mine Fanagalo and Garden Fanagalo as being basically the same pidgin. He suggests that Garden Fanagalo should be seen as lying towards the English end of a continuum, and Mine Fanagalo closer to the Zulu end.

Several key features differentiate Fanagalo from the Nguni languages (such as Zulu and Xhosa). Lo functions as both an article and a demonstrative, while only a demonstrative in Zulu. Lapha is used to mean "here", also meaning "there" when the first syllable is stressed, and is also used as a general preposition for location. (It works for anything such as "on", or "near", etc.) Zulu, on the other hand, only uses laphato mean "here". Additionally, Fanagalo only uses free pronouns: mina, thina, wena, ena, meaning "I, we, you, he/she/it/they". Zulu only uses pronouns for emphasis, relying instead on verb agreement markers, much like Spanish.[8]

The past tense of verbs is marked by the suffix -ile (hamba "I go, go!", hambile "I went"), and the future with the modal azi (azi hamba "will go").

Here are two examples (all letters are pronounced):-

Koki Lobin
Cock Robin

Zonke nyoni lapa moyo ena kala, ena kala
All birds of air, they cried, they cried
Ena izwile ena file lo nyoni Koki Lobin
They heard the death the bird Cock Robin
Ena izwile, ena file, ena izwile ena file Cocky Lobin.

Kubani ena bulalile Koki Lobin?
Who they killed Cock Robin
Mina kruma lo Sparrow
Me, said the sparrow
Na lo picannin bow and arrow kamina
With the little bow & arrow of mine
Mina bulalile Koki Lobin.
I killed Cock Robin

(The Lord's Prayer)

Baba ga tina, Wena kona pezulu,
Father of ours, You are above
Tina bonga lo Gama ga wena;
We thank (for) the name of you
Tina vuma lo mteto ga wena Lapa mhlaba, fana na pezulu.
Niga tina namuhla lo zinkwa yena izwasisa;
Give us today etc., etc...
Futi, yekelela masono gatina,
Loskati tina yekelela masono ga lomunye.
Hayi letisa tina lapa lo cala; Kodwa, sindisa tina ku lo bubi,
Ndaba Wena kona lo-mteto, lo mandla, na lo dumela, Zonkeskat. Amen.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Fanagalo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Fanagalo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 January 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^
  6. ^ Ravyse, Natasha (2018). "Against All Odds: The Survival of Fanagalo in South African Mines". Language Matters. 49: 3–24. doi:10.1080/10228195.2018.1440319.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Mesthrie, Rajend (2007). "Differentiating pidgin from early interlanguage - a comparison of Pidgin Nguni (Fanakalo) and interlanguage varieties of Xhosa and Zulu". Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies. 25: 75–89. doi:10.2989/16073610709486447.
  • Adendorff, Ralph (2002), "Fanakalo – a pidgin in South Africa", Language in South Africa, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-79105-2

External linksEdit