There are nearly 50 million people in South Africa, and a large percentage of them speak Zulu and Xhosa. Now a Cape Town communications company has harnessed the linguistic talents of one of its staffers to deliver press releases and communications services in four languages – Zulu, Xhosa, English and Afrikaans.
Bulelani Ngovi, who joined HWB Communications recently, speaks eight languages. “Obviously English is the commonly used language but one can have far greater success if one also uses languages where audiences can understand nuance and humour. Audiences are more likely to listen rather than just hear when they are given information in a tongue they feel at home with,” says Ngovi, who is able to simultaneously interpret his vernacular language, Xhosa and English, and who is proficient in Sesotho, Sepedi, Tswana, and all the Nguni languages.
Ngovi worked with the firm on the COP17 Climate Change talks in Durban in December. “When my contract ended they asked to me stay with the company so that we could start operating formally in at least Zulu and Xhosa. The response we got from operating in different languages on this project showed that it was viable to run content in more than one language provided that we have in house ability,” he explains.
Ngovi says their main targets are newspapers, radio and magazines. “Currently we are using the service with existing clients to get a feel for the scale of the work and also to judge the pitching of stories. The Zulu and Xhosa news outlets demand a slightly different content and we want to send them information that fits with what their audience want,” he says.
“It is not about just translating something from English and issuing it as a press release. But the options are huge: communicating about an asset manager and the bond market, in Zulu to a KZN audience, shows us what potential there is and how big this can get.”
“The rapidly changing media landscape in South Africa means that businesses and government have to communicate in languages that will get a message across in languages which people understand, said Evelyn John Holtzhausen CEO of HWB Communications Pty Ltd.
“English has been the predominant language for communicating but there is a need to reach a multi-cultural society that is becoming more media savvy. Tweeting in Xhosa and press releases in Zulu should be the standard mode of operations for a communications department” says Holtzhausen.
Ngovi says “tweeting in isiXhosa is hot! When we made the announcement we got tweeted by iKapamonday, a Cape Town digital newspaper who were already requesting content. We did a job this afternoon into Gauteng where we reached out on social media”.
With the rise in popularity and power of vernacular newspapers, having a staffer who can communicate across the board is a clear advantage.
“Undoubtably it means a bigger audience that gets more relevant content. HWB is mostly a media consultancy and we provide content that feeds into the daily and weekly news cycle, and when you have radio stations that have six million listeners for example it means your client’s messages are reaching a huge audience,” says Ngovi.
“Isolezwe, a Durban-based Zulu newspaper is a good example. Over the years it has proven that there is a strong market for news in indigenous languages. It enjoys a growing readership because readers can relate to the content.
“Likewise, there are over 100 radio stations such Umhlobo Wene and Ukhozi that have strong drive-time news and current affairs slots that are followed by millions.
“As a company we position ourselves as a multi cultural flexible organisation that can communicate things as diverse as government policy or lifestyle issues such as wine and food,” Ngovi says.
While completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Communication Management with the University of Fort Hare, Ngovi worked for Forte community radio for three years gaining experience in translation.
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