French-IsiZulu phrasebook

Mongezi Bolofo publishes the first French-IsiZulu phrasebook in SA
Photo: Supplied

First for SA: Durban language activist publishes French-IsiZulu phrasebook

Mongezi Bolofo is in the midst of compiling a French-IsiZulu dictionary that is set to be published in August this year.

French-IsiZulu phrasebook

Mongezi Bolofo publishes the first French-IsiZulu phrasebook in SA
Photo: Supplied

Durban language activist and linguist, Mongezi Bolofo is on a mission to promote IsiZulu the world over and he is making strides in his quest by recently publishing a French-IsiZulu phrasebook.

Manual de Conversations is the first phrasebook of its kind in South Africa that offers translations from a Francophone language to an African indigenous language (IsiZulu). So, the next time you come into contact with a French-speaking visitor to South Africa, they might ask you “parlez-vous IsiZulu?” rather than “parlez-vous Anglais?”

Bolofo collaborated with French-based linguist, Dr Michel Lafon to create the French-IsiZulu phrasebook. It presents a socio-historical background to Isi-Zulu; grammar relevant to the IsiZulu language systems and its similarities to French. It also offers readers a compilation of conversations appropriate to visitors. He worked for Lafon in 2008 translating an IsiZulu novel Asikho-Ndawo Bakitha into French.


“I’m a linguistic activist and it’s my goal for IsiZulu to make relationships with other linguistic worlds. We need to open access to South Africa’s indigenous languages without English as a middleman. I believe African languages should use a proactive approach [to] forming relationships with other languages. It is not fair to open access to indigenous languages in English only. We need to welcome people from all walks of life to learn our languages and get an opportunity to share and exchange culture and wisdom,” said Bolofo.

The UKZN Master in Arts graduate, now working as an associate lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, believes the French-IsiZulu phrasebook will contribute positively towards the social integration of Francophone French speakers who come into South Africa from other African countries.

“The phrasebook will help people understand each other better. Live alongside each other peacefully and help alleviate the xenophobic spats we have in South Africa,” he said.


Working on the French-IsiZulu phrasebook since 2017 was largely rewarding for Bolofo who enjoyed discovering commonalities of French culture embedded in that of IsiZulu, for example similar phrases used by both culture in their respective language.

He is also happy that the manual has aided French speaking immigrant school children get to grips with the IsiZulu language.

Challenging for Bolofo, initially, was having to collaborate with Lafon from France. However, they discovered the wonders of digital platforms and worked well virtually. Another challenge for him was ensuring the inclusion of the IsiZulu dialects of both people from Gauteng and KZN.

In the end, it all worked out well as Bolofo and Lafon are in the midst of compiling a French-IsiZulu dictionary set to be published in August 2021.