Creating an inheritable heritage

Elderly women of the Dikakapa Dance Group welcome the media with a beautiful Sepedi dance. Pictures: Lerato Morotolo
Elderly women of the Dikakapa Dance Group welcome the media with a beautiful Sepedi dance. Pictures: Lerato Morotolo

In true Heritage Day spirit, there are conversations which ensue that trigger introspection and a great deal of thought.

One such conversation is about the politics of languages that are minorities and go unaccounted for within the official languages.

Embracing languages isn’t something new to our television screens. Shows such as Mokgonyana Mmatswale, Bophelo Ke Semphekgo, Tlharantlhope, Mopheme and Lesilo Rula shaped many language identities.

Since then we’ve seen more representation of other languages in the mainstream, for example Khelobedu-speaking actress Mokokobale Makgopa’s role as nurse Selewa on popular e.tv soapie Scandal! and South Africa’s first Ndebele television series iKani, which aired last year, as well as musicians such as King Monada, Fiesta Black, Candy Tsa Mandebele and Sho Madjozi, who bring conversations about language and cultural representation to the forefront through their respective art forms.

Our presence shouldn’t be so rare that we see Balobedu as these mystical creatures that are a part of South Africa, but are not even known about because we do not see them represented

Makgopa urges that more opportunities be created to promote visibility in creative spaces.

“Our presence shouldn’t be so rare that we see Balobedu as these mystical creatures that are a part of South Africa, but are not even known about because we do not see them represented.”

Similarly, we’ve seen a thread of language activism woven into other areas of pop culture.

Gift Kgosierileng is a fashion designer who came across our periphery during Project Runway SA, and throughout the competition he proudly spoke about his Khoisan roots which translated in the garments he made.

“I absolutely love the Northern Cape. I love Africa; the stories, the colours. I love the Khoi, I am Khoi; this is greatly evident in how I express my work. That’s really just what it’s about, expressing the slave’s truth,” he told Eyewitness News.

Similarly, artist and activist Laura Windvogel, popularly known as Lady Skollie, draws inspiration from her Khoisan heritage and creates paintings that have references to rock and cave art. She is able to highlight the intersectionalities of identity through her paintings, which are very relevant to our modern age. She also uses her art to address issues of gender-based violence, to advocate sex positivity and other socioeconomic discourse.

Her most recent project, which was designing the new R5 coin to commemorate 25 years of democracy, is no exception.

“The snake-like qualities of the queue of people running into the distance was the primary motivation for the design,” she said in an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine.

Even in the music industry, emerging new-wave rappers such as 25K are using their dialects to express their cultural identities. The SoundCloud prodigy makes use of SePitori, which can be described as a colloquial dialect mostly spoken within areas in Tshwane.

Although the above examples display the many initiatives that artists and creatives are taking to preserve languages and culture, there is still a long way to go with regard to representation in pop culture.

This sentiment was echoed by Makgopa, who has to constantly negotiate her visibility in the stories reflected in mainstream media, when she said: “Being a Molebedu performer means I find myself deliberately making choices to occupy spaces in rooms previously inaccessible to the Balobedu.”

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