Have you seen Sulile?


Have you seen her?

I had no idea who she was talking about. Sue-Lee-Lay—surely you’ve met her?

Sulile swung by my office on her way out and I finally recognised her: it was Brenda.

Do I call you Brenda or Sulile?

Whatever is easiest for you. (You who are white and do not know the languages of this country, I thought).

But I prefer my real name of Sulile. My name in Zulu means ‘the one who wipes the tears of her mother and father.’ You see, my parents’ first born was a baby boy and my mother hoped to later have a little girl. The first born baby died at 9 months but then I was born and became the baby that my parents had already hoped to have. That is the meaning of my name.

Later, I look up the meaning of Brenda—an Old Norse name brought to Britain meaning “sword.” Streets and towns in South Africa have been renamed since apartheid, yet personal names reflecting Western imports are still commonly used in schools and in the workplace instead of indigenous South African names. I’m told this is to make names easier to pronounce for English speakers, who only make up 9% of the population in a country where 22% of peoples’ first language is Zulu.

I see you, Sulile.

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