The Sjambok

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The term sjambok (pronounced sham-bock) can refer to a specific weapon, or it can refer to various publications named after it.

The sjambok as a weapon

A sjambok (pronounced sham-bock) is the name for a long whip used for herding cattle, as riding crop and very often as an effective means of chastisement and of self-protection by individuals. The Afrikaans version of the name is written sambok (and pronounced "sum bock").

According to Wikipedia[1], the name possibly originated from the word "cambuk" , a wooden rod for punishing slaves (see also the Persian "chibouk" or "chabuk" and the Bengali "chabuk"). The instrument and its name were imported with the Malay slaves who arrived in South Africa in the 1800s. In South Africa they were originally made from hide, and the name was finally incorporated into Afrikaans as sambok.

Though often depicted as something synonymous with in the apartheid era, the use of the sjambok as a form of chastisement and control of humans, e.g. by the police forces, dates back to early colonial times. The term occurs in numerous way in plays and films of course, but is also used metaphorically in the titles of publications.

Publications using the name Sjambok

The Sjambok (1929-1930)

The Sjambok was a satirical broadsheet published in South Africa as an initiative of the Schlesinger Organisation. Started in 1929 and appearing once a week, it sought to expose bribery and corruption in high places, notably in the corridors of the Johannesburg City Council. It was edited by journalist and playwright Stephen Black.

The journalist and playwright H.I.E. Dhlomo (1946) has described the journal as "the John Bull of South Africa. Its purpose was to chastise and expose whoever and whatever was inimical to public morals and public welfare... to fight evil and corruption in the life of the community...", pointing out that it recognised neither class , colour, race nor rank. In support of this statement, he notes that one of the members of its staff was an African, R.R.R. Dhlomo - who wrote many articles, sketches and short stories for the journal (though, as a staff journalist, they did not all appear under his name).

The content of the journal soon rendered Black unpopular and, because of a number of libel suits, bankrupt - so the publication was soon forced to close.

The New Sjambok (1931)

In July 1931 Black himself started what was to be The New Sjambok, but fell ill and died shortly afterwards in Johannesburg on the 8th August 1931 of liver cancer.

Sjambok the website (2004-)

Sjambok is a website was a satirical online publication created in 2004 and carries the subtitle: "sjambok'ing [i.e. "whipping"] the world for love, not money!". According to the website it is intended to make readers laugh, and now and again to make them think about the things that come under the lash of the "sjambok".

In this respect it is important to note that the main page of the website is headed by two caveats: "Don't be stupid. This isn't real news" and "Not for under 18's or the easily offended!".


H.I.E. Dhlomo. 1946. “Three Famous African Journalists I Knew: R.R.R. Dhlomo”, Inkundla ya Bantu , August, Second Fortnight.[2]