First Khoisan praise-singer at SONA gets tongues wagging and clicking

An Imbongi, or traditional praise singer, performs before the start of the annual State of the Nation Address. (Rodger Bosch, AFP)
An Imbongi, or traditional praise singer, performs before the start of the annual State of the Nation Address. (Rodger Bosch, AFP)

Bradley van Sitters was a rapper from Athlone, Cape Town, in his youth. But it was his rhythmic, melodic praise-singing in the endangered Khoekhoegowab language on Thursday night that really got people sitting up as they watched the 2019 State of the Nation address on their television screens.

An emotional Van Sitters told News24 shortly afterwards that he was proud to have represented the first nation with his "uttering" in the National Assembly.

"[Ramaphosa] allowing for the first time for the language to be heard at SONA, that says a lot. The mood shifted in the place," he said.

"I could feel there was definitely ancestral workings happening there. People felt touched. It was powerful."

Tongues were wagging and clicking on social media over the first Khoisan praise singer to grace SONA, a role that was almost scrapped due to budgetary constraints.

While many struggled to understand what Van Sitters was saying (and some hoped he wasn't being naughty by slipping in cheeky words), there was mostly appreciation on social media for him bringing some spice and diversity to the National Assembly. 

Anyone hoping to impress their guests around the braai or dinner table might want to sign up for a language course. The University of Cape Town (or should that be ||Hui!Gaeb) is offering a short course at the moment and indicated an intention last month for Khoekhoegowab to become a fourth language at the institution.

KhoeKhoegowab was the original language spoken by the first inhabitants in the Cape and is the most populous and widespread of the Khoisan language.

Today there are 2 000 speakers of the language in the Northern and Western Cape, 150 000 speakers in Namibia and only 200 in Botswana, according to the Western Cape cultural affairs department.

Van Sitters said it was while on a youth culture exchange programme overseas that he realised he needed to explore and protect the culture.

"I spoke Afrikaans there because of my mom but people from Holland said 'That is our language because we can understand you'," he explained.

"That was the moment I realised I no longer have my mother tongue... I needed to decolonise my tongue.".

He has spearheaded efforts to keep the language from dying out.

South Africans were impressed by the surprise imbongi:

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