Words glue us to us

I stand here today and marvel at the role that language has played in our society.

My love for language, especially indigenous South African languages,

drove me to make a commitment that I would endeavour to speak all South

African indigenous languages fluently.

It does occupy my mind that sometimes, in fact most times, when we have

to articulate who we are as Africans, we have to ­resort to the English


Interesting isn’t it?

But the question of language is a profound one, especially today, when

it would seem that the scourge of tribalism has managed to rear its ugly

head again.

Those of us who came of age in the 70s – in the decade of Black

Consciousness – never thought that we would still be fighting tribalism

and the narrow-minded politics of the stomach in 2011, almost 18 years

after the dawn of our democracy.

We must endeavour to change this world.

We must commit ourselves to bringing the various nationalities of our

beloved country together so they can sing one song, recite the same poem

and read from the same chapter in this exciting novel.

And our art and craft can play a pivotal role.

Our musicians have been singled out on world stages as among the best.

Our plays and films have received some of the best accolades.

There must be something that we are doing right.

But when it comes to using these very instruments to bring us together

as a nation, we seem to dither and stumble, and we do not seem to have a

clear vision.

We must begin to recognise just how talented our thespians, singers and

painters are, and we must create an environment that will enable them to

conquer the world.

We have some such beautiful languages in this country.

We must start encouraging young people to write novels and books and

research works in these languages, if for no other reason but to ensure

that these languages remain as testimony to our having walked this


It is the question of language that brings me to the popular Venda

drama, Muvhango, whose intended creation was to bridge the divide among


 It is quite interesting that the word muvhango means “conflict”.

How then do we talk of unity and a unifying principle and yet use a drama whose very name means conflict?

In the drama, we pit one family against another around a simple story of

a man with two wives who suddenly dies and leaves the two components of

his family fighting over the rights to bury him, and subsequently the

rights to his riches.

But at the end of the fight the two components come together to form a bigger, much stronger unit.

The concept continues in ­perpetuity: wherever there is ­conflict, the

resultant resolve brings the warring parties closer to each other and

engages them in a unifying act– much the same tactic used by the

legendary King Shaka in war.

When we look at Muvhango, language becomes a significant tool in both the conflicts and in their resolution.

Language is used to reach out to the youth to teach them about their

history, their culture and their origin.We are forced to listen to one

another in our indigenous languages in an effort to get us to respect

one another, and hence engender a spirit of oneness.

It’s the same unity that Steve Biko envisaged when he ­established a unifying political aesthetic.

Language has pushed us to a world where we have to understand one

another, so as to ask for water when we’re travelling on journeys or to

declare peace in times of war. Language speaks when all other efforts

have failed.

It unites.

It sets us free. We have seen, through usage of theatre and drama, how nations have come together to laugh, sing and dance.

This then says to us there still is a major role that the arts can play

in the healing that South Africa still has to go through.

I am tempted to call on all South Africans to reflect on the importance

of using language and the arts as a unifying factor in these days when

South African is turning against South African.

These days all you need to do is to read the Sunday newspapers to see how insulated we are from each other.

Our country needs a media that will take its time to, among other things, accentuate the positive.

We can’t live in a society where the entire media fraternity spends 100%

of its efforts trying to prove that we are a failing nation.

We need to accentuate the positives so that our children know that our struggles were not in vain.

We need to encourage our young people to go back to school.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest, softly, that we are ready to add

our voices to the efforts of the university to develop the arts


Put simply, we would like to work hand in hand with the university to ­ensure this industry’s growth.

» Ka Ndlovu is a filmmaker, an executive director at Word of Mouth Pictures and the executive producer of Muvhango.

This is an edited version of the speech he ­delivered on receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Venda

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