Sepedi sparked the flame, the centre of my political consciousness

When I started school at St Camillus Primary in Hammanskraal in January 1976, I was taught to recite the ABC and the 1-2-3 in three languages – Sepedi, English and Afrikaans.

However, Sepedi remained close to my heart because when I grew up in my township there was no television, and evenings were spent listening to my mother's folktales, Pedi spiritual songs, legends and riddles of the proud Bapedi tribe.

I would sit around the fire with my siblings and enjoy these tales, transmitted over centuries from one generation to another through oral history.

In honour of Youth Day the M&G has published a series of takes on all our official languages. Read the rest here.

These were stories of warriors like King Sekhukhune, King Mampuru, King Mokopane, and how they fiercely resisted colonialism. I also enjoyed the parables about the lion and the mouse, and the rabbit and the elephant.


If I was not listening to my mother's stories I would huddle, together with others, around a transistor radio to listen to some quirky drama on SABC's Radio Bantu.

These stories created a strong bond between me and my mother tongue, which became the centre of my childhood development and cultural and political consciousness.

I was enthralled by its metaphors and idioms, and its close relationship with other dialects like Lobedu, Setlokwa and Sepulane.

Unfortunately, my affection for Sepedi has been limited to the spoken language at home and when I visit my relatives in Limpopo.

I feel a sense of betrayal and guilt because even at work I exclusively use English, a foreign language, to write and communicate.

I also communicate with my three children in English, making me feel like those colonised natives of Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, who are wont to say: "I speak as Senegalese and as a Frenchman," or, "I speak as an Algerian and as a Frenchman."

To parrot somebody else's language is a repudiation of one's identity, heritage and roots, for what good is a language if it cannot be used to trade in economics or publish books and newspapers?

The great writers of all time wrote in their mother tongues. The Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes in his native Spanish, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in Russian and William Shakespeare wrote in English.

While we have 11 official languages in South Africa, our indigenous languages do not enjoy the same footing or importance as English and Afrikaans.

Until the day our native languages are properly empowered, as Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o – who now writes in Gikuyu – has said, we are merely pursuing a dead end.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Charles Molele
Guest Author

Related stories

Diversity, not division, in lecture halls

Using English as the main medium of instruction at Tukkies will help build a new, inclusive culture.

Siswati: Anger eludes the language of love

The language considered the Italian of Africa might be useful for amorous pursuits but it can prove a major undoing should brawn be required.

English has stolen from too many cultures to count

It has become the nation’s cultural polyfiller. The second choice of millions of South Africans. English is the language of compromise.

Setswana’s always close to my heart

Ke Motswana tota (I'm a pure Motswana). My language is my life and my pride. I think, dream and curse in Setswana.

Sesotho’s the funniest of them all

The advantages of growing up in Soweto are plenty, one being that it is a multicultural society and a melting pot of many languages.

It’s up to us to re-needle the isiXhosa haystack

I'm grateful to the youth of 1976 for taking a stand against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools.
Advertising

Jailed journalist a symbol of a disillusioned Zimbabwe

Hopewell Chin’ono backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa when he succeeded Robert Mugabe. Now he’s in jail

Sisulu axes another water board

Umgeni Water’s board in KwaZulu-Natal was appointed irregularly by her predecessor, the water and sanitation minister claims
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday