Gutter gossip, but notable quotes too

Abantu bayakhuluma, usually followed by the mother of all exclamations, is township-speak for "people talk", from gutter gossip to the nicest compliments.

Though she does not stand at the fence with the neighbour on the other side a la MamGobhozi - the legendary township rumour-monger - radio personality Jennifer Crwys-Williams does the 21st century version of spreading "Have You Heard?" titbits - she's collated them into a book.

Human language has always depended on the wisdom of great minds, if you recall how people rely on Churchill, Shakespeare, Yeats and others to bolster their speech. Crwys-Williams' work is a lazy effort at writing a book, but a welcome contribution to speech - the sort that cannot do without a quotable quote.

People with an opinion to express - from journalists, politicians to sports people - say things about themselves and other people; some flattering, some downright dotty.

Take Thabo Mbeki, for example. The gifted orator's speeches are rarely ever without a line or two from Wordsworth, Chaucer or some other thinker. People say things about him here. Whether or not these would pepper some speeches in the future is a moot point.

Lawyer Richard Calland and academic Sean Jacobs join forces to say of the First Citizen: "Clarifying Mbeki's politics is difficult, for he is a man defined not by true vision or ideology, but by the contradictions of his history and his pragmatism."

Peter Bruce: "He's made a political mess of the country, but not an economic one and, like scissors cuts paper, economy trumps politics."

Epainette Mbeki: "You see, my son is only 25percent my son; 75 percent belongs to the ANC and the country."

Many people, mostly scribes, say things about Mbeki that are sure to be useful to the "other" camp.

"He has become a god unto himself, accountable to nobody in particular but himself. He fires, suspends and punishes those who stand in his way," public intellectual Xolela Mangcu.

At the passing of Walter Sisulu, contemporary Ahmed Kathrada said: "Nelson Mandela was liked and respected, Walter Sisulu was loved."

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is nobody's darling. The acidic Andrew Donaldson calls her Frankenmanto, a moniker that has become as much a part of the Sunday Times as their address. Says Hogarth: "She is a walking contradiction in terms, the minister of health."

The minister got one back when she said: "As I move around, I find that many people support what I am doing. These are ordinary people, not the type of people who read Business Day."

Satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys says of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Strondwyk: "Swapping a National Party for a national park!"

There are delightful bits, whatever your taste. "The Gucci Socialist" is what someone thinks of Tony Yengeni while Guy Kebble, who still mourns his brother Brett's killing, says of John Stratton: "He's a cockroach".

It's useful, in a number of ways.