Voices

Linguistic rights must be restored in SA

2019-09-04 23:40

I don’t want to hear this dialect narrative any more, my people’s linguistic rights must be restored, writes Goodenough Mashego

First, let me congratulate you on your choice of the English phrase “land expropriation without compensation” as last year’s words of the year in South Africa.

It sounded more like Chicken Licken choosing KFC’s zinger wings as “chicken dish of the year”.

Somehow, they are spicy, while what you referred to as “a word” is actually a “spiced up phrase”.

I know you knew that already – the same way you knew that “state capture” was in English, but you still chose it as word of the year in 2017.

If I didn’t know you better, I would say you were playing to the gallery.

The above is not the reason for my overdue correspondence with your august organisation.

When it was brought to my attention that you have been in existence since 1995, I wondered why I hadn’t been apprised of any of your achievements except the failure to choose an indigenous word as your gift to us.

That you went for an English phrase left me, to quote Jimmy Kruger, “cold”.

Let me introduce myself. Nna ke Mopulana.

Okay, I know you have heard this annoying introduction in forums before, but you have always pretended what the person is actually saying was “Ke Mopedi”.

No, you heard me right, ke Mopulana; someone too lazy to think would call an eastern Sotho, which I’m not.

Like all my brown-skinned (Basotho) fellow travellers, I trace my roots to lands beyond this tip of a continent that you as a body still fail to restore its indigenous name to.

Our ancestors don’t know us.

That we still carry a Dutch name, Zuid Afrika, should weigh heavily on your conscience – that’s if you have any, because, based on my experience, conscience is elusive.

In 2002, Sepulana Language Development Committee made a submission to the Joint Constitutional Review Committee for Sepulana to be accorded status as an official language.

The application was given to you to decide. I must confess I have never been confident that people who feast at the grand table would welcome an additional mouth.

When challenged to clear the status of Sepulana in Limpopo, your provincial chapter decided to trivialise it by claiming that Mapulana didn’t have genuine concerns, but only disliked Sepulana being referred to as a dialect; that calling a language our children are forced to learn in schools Sesotho sa Leboa would appease us as we, like our compatriots, are tribalists who despise Sepedi but will embrace Sesotho sa Leboa.

Your antidote to our demands for linguistic identity was to downgrade our language to a dialect while arguing that, as we live in Limpopo, we have no right to an identity when we are mere tributaries of the great river of Sepedi hegemony.

To me, that sounded as if you were equally dismissing the existence of Batlokwa, Balobedu, Bakoni, Baroka, Bahananwa and others as linguistic communities, but saying: “Come on guys, why can’t you evolve into one ethnic group.”

That, dear Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), was a glaring failure on your part to understand the damage caused by apartheid when it legislated other people out of existence with its homeland and Bantustan systems.

As you might know, each homeland had one indigenous language, while the rest were declared “dialects” (dipolelosemmotwana).

And this post-apartheid belief that legislating 11 official languages is revolutionary is to bury your head in the sand.

Our official language policy is nothing but a perpetuation of apartheid language systems spiced with English and Afrikaans.

The wagon on the restoration of linguistic rights has not moved an inch, while millions of rands have been spent propping up your existence – which I still need to find a reason for.

The space I’m afforded in this newspaper is very limited. I would have loved to rant about your failures and my surprise that you still exist while you have not given one indigenous language official status in 24 years.

You are not a child any more.

For your information, Sepulana, my language, was only downgraded to a dialect in 1972 when Lebowa was established and Sepedi became the official language of the homeland we were designated.

Otherwise, if we were squeezed into KaNgwane, Sepulana could have been deemed a dialect of Siswati or, if we were swallowed by Gazankulu, it would have been called a dialect of Xitsonga.

So I don’t want to hear this dialect narrative any more, but demand that my people’s linguistic rights be asserted – not today, not tomorrow but yesterday.

Anyway, I could have written this whole letter in one of the indigenous languages you don’t recognise, but as I realise you have a penchant for English, I thought, I’d just indulge PanSALB in the Queen’s language it adores.

However, my underlying demand is this – give us our linguistic rights or cease to exist.

Mashego is a cultural activist at Bana Ba Tau Setlhano and Mokgatlho wa Bangwadi Mapulaneng

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September 15 2019