Phasing out the Fanakalo language in South Africa
In 2011, Gold Fields rolled out a new Business Languages Policy for its South Africa region, which includes a
strategy for phasing-out the Fanakalo language used at its operations.
Historically, employees in South Africa have communicated using Fanakalo – an artificial hybrid of Zulu, English
and Afrikaans. The language was originally developed within the mining sector to allow communication between
groups who speak different languages – a significant challenge within largely migrant workforces. Due to its
history, Fanakalo is associated in the minds of many with the Apartheid era – and is believed to be disrespectful
to speakers of local languages. Furthermore, the relatively simplistic nature of Fanakalo means it is becoming
less useful in an increasingly sophisticated operational environment – and one in which important technical,
safety and health information needs to be clearly understood. This is particularly the case as Gold Fields
advances mechanised mining and development methods within its mines.
The use of Fanakalo will be phased out using a strategy developed in partnership with the Language School at
Wits University, which will run until 2022. An external research team is in the process of establishing which two
African languages are currently dominant within the Gold Fields workforce. These will be used to replace
Fanakalo as the main means of communication at Gold Fields mines – whilst English will be used for business
purposes. As part of the strategy, all employees will be given access to language training programmes, so they
are able to speak and understand the ‘official’ Gold Fields languages. The current Adult Basic Education and
Training programme, which teaches English and numeracy, will continue, whilst new language courses will be
introduced for the two African languages. These will be based on 80-hour interactive language programmes,
which will be embedded at the operations and integrated into the performance management system.
“With proper communication you can inject magic into a team and achieve
great things from a safety and production point of view.”
Peter Turner, Executive Vice-President: South Africa Region