A woman of many tongues — local heroine sends her greetings in 13 languages

2014-11-25 00:00

WITH only Grade 7 education to her name, Marietjie Bothma went from being homeless to ­being the speaker during ­President Jacob Zuma’s ­inauguration celebrations.

However, it was her appearance on an pie advert speaking fluent Zulu that got tongues wagging. This multilingual woman, whose mother tongue is Afrikaans, can now speak 13 languages including several South African languages and German. She switches between Zulu, Xhosa and Sesotho with ease.

The recently appointed KwaZulu-Natal Tourism ambassador opened up to The Witness about her tough ­upbringing at a local mission and having to learn several ­languages just to survive.

Born in Potchefstroom, ­Bothma was adopted by a ­Pretoria family at 10 months old.

When she turned two, the family moved to KwaZulu-Natal, to the KwaSizabantu Mission near KwaMaphumulo.

This is where she was forced to learn different languages. “My father had a church during the apartheid days and he wanted us to learn different languages so we could interpret for him during the service.”

He made sure the various ­people at the mission station spoke in vernacular to the ­children and Bothma built on this at the various missions where she ended up.

Bothma said life at the ­mission was “extremely hard”.

“It was so strict. If you just looked at a boy, you would be expelled from school,” she recalled.

In Grade 7. Bothma was ­expelled from the mission ­“because I was a rebel, I did not follow the rules”.

She said while living in the mission, she had little contact with the outside world.

“In 2001, I tried to commit suicide, but landed up in ­hospital. I felt like life was too much for me. I felt like the walls were caving in on me, I never felt like I had a sense of belonging,” said Bothma.

She recovered from the ordeal and began to piece her life back together.

Bothma went to Johannesburg to look for a job, but ended up homeless on the streets of Hillbrow because she did not have money to go back to Bloemfontein, her home at the time.

Fast forward to 2008 when Bothma auditioned for I Want to Sing Gospel, but she did not make it. She got her first big break last year when she auditioned for a King Pie advert.

“It was only after the advert that people started asking about me. The advert has opened so many doors for me. I am a ­positive person and I talk about what I have been through, ­because I hope it will inspire ­other people,” she said.

Bothma has since appeared on etv’s Against All Odds and she was the master of ceremonies during President Jacob Zuma’s inauguration celebrations in May this year.

“It’s been a tough road, but I have ­survived,” said Bothma.

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