Protests Over Zuma African Bible Translation

Bible translation is in the news as it was announced that a new version is in the works. At the start of the new year, the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, announced that he was working with the Holy Roman Church to update a translation of the Bible.

In addition to being President of South Africa and a fan of Bible translation, Zuma is a member of the Zulu Nation. SABC Digital News posted a video on YouTube that explains the intentions of President Zuma for translating the Bible. The report about the new Bible translation shows a Catholic official receiving a check from ABSA written out to the Diocese of Mariannhill in South Africa for 500,000 Rands (about $42,700).

The video also states that the last time the Bible was translated into the isiZulu language was 1959. However, the current Bible translated by the Bible Society in 1959 is alleged to have too many errors.

“Zulu has undergone a number of stages in authography [the process of writing down isiZulu dialects into materials that can be translated into other languages] … [such as better defining] aspirated ‘A’, aspirated ‘B’, ‘K’, ‘H’, and so on. Now, we write [isiZulu] in a manner that is congruent with the Zulu authography of our times,” Otty Nxumalo, a South African Professor of Society and Culture, stated in the SABC Digital News interview.

The SABC Digital News video goes on to say that President Zuma sees this translation of the Bible as being compliant with a promise from his office to promote all 13 languages of South Africa. To get the best translation of the Bible possible, over 18 volunteers from South Africa will go to Italy in the near future to familiarize themselves with the languages spoken during Biblical times.

IOL covered the announcement that took place at St. Joseph Cathedral in Durban and quoted President Zuma’s organization — the same responsible for the Bible translation, the JG Zuma Foundation.

“This new version will be more accurate and closer to the original manuscript. As a speaker of isiZulu, President Zuma has long felt that the existing isiZulu translation of the Scriptures is inadequate and a new version will now be directly translated from Biblical languages, such as Hebrew and Aramaic, straight into isiZulu. This work will culminate in a more relevant Zulu Bible, which is considered a critical evangelization tool for both worshippers and scholars.”

Adding to the importance of the isiZulu language and potential need for a new Bible translation are the large population of speakers in South Africa. St. John’s College in Johannesburg has a college for isiZulu and explains the new translation on their home page.

“isiZulu is the most widely spoken first language in South Africa. IsiZulu is understood by 80% and spoken in almost 65% of the South African community. There are 1.5 million IsiZulu speakers in Gauteng and over 70 000 in Mpumalanga. IsiZulu is also spoken and understood in parts of Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Kenya (Swahili).”

Despite positive reports about the Bible translation by Zuma, Twitter users are showing their skepticism. Many are showing bitterness related to the scandal involving President Zuma in early 2014 when he was accused of stealing public funding.

In October, IOL published a report stating that Zuma was acquitted of the charges related to making a quarter of million Rands’ worth of improvements to his home residence. Despite the charges being dismissed, Twitter users from South Africa complain on social media that Zuma might not be the best person to associated with issues of morality and accurate interpretations of the Bible.

[All images are from the linked references.]

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