In my mother tongue – local writer hopes to instil in kids a love for home languages

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Dimakatso Mookodi.
Dimakatso Mookodi.
Supplied/Dimakatso Mookodi

It should be a crucial part of their lives. Helping your children learn to speak and love their home language is a great way to bond and get them to embrace their culture.

This is why Dimakatso Mookodi focuses on mother tongue in her books. 

Drum had a Q&A with the writer about her children’s book, Molemi Ya Bitswang Kahano, which is available in six languages: Sesotho isiZulu, isiXhosa, Setswana, Sepedi and English.

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Tell us a little about your book and why you decided to write it.

Molemi Ya Bitswang Kahano is about a little boy who stays with his grandparents on a farm. He is a very inquisitive young boy who wants to know more about farming and would like to be a commercial farmer when he grows up.

He learns a few vital lessons from his grandparents as the story unfolds. I decided to write the book after the birth of my son because I wanted him to read books in his mother tongue. I didn’t want him to lose touch with his home language.

The story itself was inspired by the name of my publishing company, Peo Literature. As the founder, I’m trying to plant a seed for indigenous languages in our little ones, especially those who go to private schools.

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Molemi Ya Bitswang Kahano, which is available in six languages: Sesotho isiZulu, isiXhosa, Setswana, Sepedi and English.

Who’s it written for and what do you hope they’ll get out of it?

It’s for children between the ages of four and 10, and there are a couple of lessons I hope they’ll pick up from the story.

Firstly, a sense of belonging when they see characters who look like them, who have the same skin colour. Secondly, that it takes a village to raise a child. And thirdly, that as they explore this life they still need to listen to elderly people.

Why do you think your language is crucial to your identity?

Language forms part of one’s identity and heritage, so if we’re going to lose this defining aspect of who we are then we might as well forget about a black child growing up with a sense of pride in who they truly are.

Is this your first book?

Yes, it’s my first book. It was published last year.

How long have you been writing?

Though I studied drama and writing was one of the courses I did at school some years ago, I only started writing last year. I didn’t think I have it in me to write, but my “why” was bigger than my fear.

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Tell us about yourself.

I was born and bred in Mohlakeng in the West Rand district of Joburg. I was raised by a single mom and I’m the middle child, which made me very independent early on. I did my primary and high school in the township school because my family wasn’t well-off.

We had most basic needs covered, but as a child I felt we were poor and that gave me a drive to want to get out of that situation by going to school and having a better job so I could help my family.

When I finished matric, I couldn’t study further because we didn’t have money and I didn’t qualify for a bursary because my academic performance was average. But that didn’t stop me from dreaming big.

I worked odd jobs and eventually, four years after I finished matric, I managed to go to The Market Theatre Laboratory to study drama. When I finished my studies, I worked for The Market Theatre as a technician and later moved to the advertising industry to work as a producer. I produced radio ads in vernacular languages, which is where I developed a love for languages.

I then started a communications company, Mookodi’s Creative Consultants, which provides translation services to advertising agencies. It is still up and running and it gave birth to Peo, which published my first children’s book and will be creating more children’s content in indigenous languages. And the rest is history.