Walking the talk: Howick man to highlight unequal use of vernacular languages

2013-05-21 00:00

A HOWICK man’s struggle to overcome the difficulties of learning other languages at school has led him to embark on an epic journey to raise awareness of the plight that pupils face.

On June 1, language and culture activist Sandile Masondo will begin a 3 000 km walk around KwaZulu-Natal that will take two-and-a-half months.

This walk will be done to highlight the oppression and unequal use of vernacular languages affecting the majority of South Africans.

Masondo will start his walk in Howick and pass through Ladysmith, Pongola, Durban, Port Shepstone and Ixopo.

For Masondo, the walk is a personal project that stems from the difficulties he experienced in school, difficulties that millions of people face on a daily basis.

“During my secondary years of school I had a problem speaking English; in most cases I couldn’t even understand my teacher. Even though I finished my matric, I could not pursue my dream of becoming a journalist as my English marks were not good enough to be admitted into a journalism course.

“Disappointed, I went back to my hometown to become a street vendor. When I was selling fruit and vegetables on the street I made a promise to myself to try and fight language oppression.”

Masondo plans to visit rural communities and share his experiences of what he calls “language oppression” to inspire change that will enhance the quality of life for South Africans who speak indigenous languages.

“The objective is to engage citizens in the street, local municipal councillors and the media to generate debate, dialogue and raise awareness around the difficulties experienced by the overwhelming percentage of South Africans who still have to navigate public processes and education systems in second or third languages that they do not fully understand.”

Said Professor Noleen Turner, head of African Languages at UKZN: “I think Sandile’s walk is wonderful. In light of what is happening at the university, where students will be required to take isiZulu next year, Sandile shows us the other point of view. Eighty-two percent of [people in] KZN are Zulu speakers, and they have to be taught in English. He is giving Zulu its rightful position in KZN,” Turner told The Witness.

Masondo climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year to spread awareness of rhino poaching in South Africa. He has also started an NGO called Umbhotshoselwa Wezaqheqhe to help raise awareness of language oppression.

He said he decided to start the walk in June to commemorate the Soweto uprising of 1976, when students took to the streets to oppose being taught in Afrikaans.

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