Fanakalo is a pidgin which was taught in the South African mines in the 1900s to enable communication between speakers of African languages and speakers of European languages. It is a simplified form of Zulu, comprised mainly of Zulu, English and Afrikaans. It is a contact language, which developed in the coastal province of Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) in the 1900s as a means for Europeans to communicate with Xhosa and Zulu speakers and later for Indians to communicate with English employers and Zulu speakers. Two main events led to the development of the pidgin—the arrival of indentured Indians in Natal from 1960 and the rise in migrant labour from South Africa and neighbouring African countries to the Witwatersrand following the discovery of gold in 1867. Both these conditions led to multilingual labour contexts in which Fanakalo was and still is used. It is mainly spoken by both white and black mine workers (both management and labour), white South African farmers, Indian shopkeepers, their Zulu clientele and staff, and domestic employers and employees in and beyond South Africa, but it is not spoken as a first language. Fanakalo has been disparaged for its role as a language of command between employers and employees, in the sense that it was used by (white) employers to issue commands, or orders regarding work tasks, to (black) employees.


Pidgin Contact Labour Mining Zulu South Africa 


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen Hurst
    • 1
  1. 1.Humanities Education Development UnitUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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