Learn the language of the province

2013-05-22 00:00

REPEAT after me: phansi (pronounced p-aunt-si) ngo ku-funda isiZulu ng-en-kani or phambili (palm billy) n go kufunda IsiZulu.

If you did you would know that the above says: “Down with being forced to learn Zulu, or forward with learning Zulu.”

If you are a KwaZulu-Natal resident, the university of the province says you should have the basic skills to be able to read and communicate in Zulu. That’s why it is decreeing that you should have learnt Zulu if you are to emerge with a degree from the Univeristy of KwaZulu-Natal.

I can see why not everyone is chuffed. June 16, 1976, happened because black South Africans saw the imposition of Afrikaans as a way a government used its power to force an already vanquished people into the culture of the dominant political class.

Thirty-seven years after the streets of Soweto burnt, the coffee shops and dinner tables of traditionally white and even Indian KwaZulu-Natal are rumbling. They, too, are feeling the imposition.

I agree with them. Cultural imposition only creates resentment.

The beauty and wealth of a language are lost as the anger subsumes those forced to learn it. The leaders of the Soweto Uprisings called Afrikaans “a culturally impoverished language that leads to a dead end”.

They were wrong about the cultural impoverishment of Afrikaans. They were correct, though, about the pointlessness of them learning in a language, the enforcers of which had the stated aim of making them hewers of wood and drawers of water.

It will help to see merit in and understand the unstated reasons for wanting to impose Zulu on everyone in the province.

South Africa has a peculiar case of a numerical majority feeling like a cultural minority. How is it normal that one can live in a province where the most spoken language in South Africa originates and is strongest, and never try to learn it?

There is a perception that the dominant paradigm in South Africa is white and Eurocentric.

Africans forever feel the need to justify themselves in practising their customs and traditions. In KwaZulu-Natal, the examples include age-old customs like virginity testing, polygamy and the status and privileges of the king.

Criticism of these institutions is often based on a world view that is outside that of those they criticise. The language often betrays the cultural gap; take the referral of ilobolo as “bride price” and the critique that follows placing a price on a human being.

So instead of imposing a language, UKZN must remember that no body can legislate appreciation of a culture. It is a painstaking process that is part of the social cohesion project that our country must continuously work on.

KwaZulu-Natal citizens should also take an honest look at themselves and ask what they have done to try to “hear” the majority of their neighbours, colleagues and workers. They must ask themselves how much they miss of the world that goes on around them as they insulate themselves with their English and Afrikaans.

• Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a freelance writer and former editor of The Witness. Follow him on Twitter@fikelelo

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