In an unexpected but not unprecedented moment in the South African parliament, President Cyril Ramaphosa used a crass Afrikaans swear word in the chamber.
It happened during a nearly three-hour Q&A session with MPs in Cape Town.
Various issues came up for discussion, like the economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – but it was a question over Zoom from Julius Malema, leader of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), that elicited the expletive.
He had brought up the police force – which has been under fire over high crime rates and its handling of deadly riots last year following the arrest of President Jacob Zuma.
He wanted to know if the president was scared of Police Minister Bheki Cele – and if that was why another minister had not been put in charge of the force.
Mr Ramaphosa responded: “Honourable Malema, I’ve heard what you’ve said, but, I fear [Afrikaans swear word meaning ‘nothing’].”
South Africa has 11 official languages and the majority of citizens are multilingual, blending expressions from one language with another.
The president’s use of the word was mostly met with laughter and applause. It didn’t cause massive outrage but it was widely covered in the press.
On social media, citizens reacted with mixed feelings of humour and disappointment in their leader’s behaviour.
The South African parliament has seen over the years many insults hurled between MPs and even fist-fights.
However, MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, chief whip of the opposition United Democratic Movement party, did call out the president, saying “it would be a sad day” if the word “entered the lexicon” of parliament.
Mr Ramaphosa agreed and, between giggles, suggested that the word “niks” – another Afrikaans term for “nothing”, though not an offensive one – should be used in the official record instead.
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