South African conversations: Debunking Zuma’s claims that stress is a ‘white man’s disease’

Zuma stood up in front of the world earlier last week and said that the protestors and people were racist… he then stood up again and publicly claimed that he couldn’t suffer from stress as that was a white persons thing and there isn’t even a Zulu word for it.


In less that week, the President has stood up numerous times and publicly tried to make the current situation in South Africa racial, crafting his words to divide the country with racist tones but stating that only white people suffer from stress does more damage to fuelling myths around mental illnesses.

Instead of getting angry at the remarks, we decided to take a moment to learn about our fellow South African’s culture and called up a language professor to ask why the Zulu language did not have a word for stress.

His words… “of course there’s a Zulu word for stress, ingcindezi is actually a saying that can be used to explain worrisome or stressful times.”

“But because we are all South Africans and not actually divided by language, colloquially we would say iStress… it’s how language evolves over time when different cultures become closer to one another.”

Times Live had the same thought process and called in experts to discuss culture versus stress.

“So the existence of the word ‘ingcindezi’ means there is stress. It depends on what it is all about. It depends on which context Zuma was speaking and maybe in that context there is no stress. But there is stress.” said retired University of KwaZulu-Natal Zulu lecturer and cultural expert Ndela Ntshangase.

Ntshangase said stress could manifest itself in various forms‚ depending on the type of stress of a person was suffering from.

“Even with us when someone has stress it means that they are under pressure from something. Someone could suffer from stress of divorcing because he or she does not want to divorce.

“And there is also stress for rejection. And that person can have a serious stress which comes from being rejected. That’s why some people say there is nothing as painful as being rejected by someone you still love‚” he said.


But it was not the first time that Zuma had referred to stress as a white people’s disease.

In January last year‚ during the send-off of 19 students who were beneficiaries of bursaries from the Jacob Zuma Foundation who were going to study in Nigeria‚ Zuma‚ also speaking in Zulu at his official presidential residence in Durban‚ said if he listened to his critics he would have “that disease white people call stress but I don’t have it because I know better”.

Dr Nkini Phasha‚ board member of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group‚ said that Zuma’s utterances were “unfortunate”.

“This sort of narrative [that stress is exclusively an issue for white people] contributes to fuelling myths around mental illnesses‚” he said.

“This also fuels a stigma that is associated with mental health issues and it sets us back as a country. It further sets us back as we attempt to educate and empower our people when it comes with dealing with stress and accessing professional help they require‚” Phasha said.

According to the results of the South African Stress and Health study‚ Indians‚ coloured and blacks recorded psychological distress scores “significantly higher than scores reported by whites”.

“When considering stress exposure‚ the three non-white groups experience more undesirable life events when compared to whites.

“Only Africans and Indians report significantly more instances of unfair treatment than whites. Finally‚ the average psychological distress scores for Africans‚ Coloureds‚ and Indians are significantly higher than scores reported by whites‚” the study reads.

Clinical Psychologist‚ Ingrid Artus‚ said that stress was not a condition exclusive to one race group.

“In my practice I have seen people from all walks of life who suffer with stress and stress-related issues. I can assure you that all race groups experience stress‚” she said.

“Based on my experience‚ I have black‚ Indian‚ coloured and white clients who have all been affected by stress. It cannot be divided by race‚” she said.

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Sources: Times Live

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The Good Things Guy
Brent Lindeque is the founder and man in charge at Good Things Guy. Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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