How a local storytelling startup is tackling the 'general assault on black culture'

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'78% of Grade 4 students cannot read for meaning'
'78% of Grade 4 students cannot read for meaning'

In a South Africa where only 8.1% of individuals speak English in their households, the founders of a local black-owned startup by the name of TAQA have taken it upon themselves to begin the process of breaking language barriers by creating a digital library.

Most South African students face a language barrier, and when their mother tongue cannot be used for learning, it leads to a stunted self-confidence and an undermined sense of self in society.

TAQA provides an opportunity for children to listen to books read in their mother tongues and to have a chance at tapping into a world of imagination through the familiar lens of the clicks, rolling Rs, and colourful vowels of African languages.

One of the four co-founding members, Qhawe Bula, told Parent24: "Languages hold entire world views. They hold histories, they hold imaginations, they hold thoughts, they hold a lot."

Read: During lockdown, South African students wrote a book about 'a world gone mad'

A digital platform accessed anywhere, anytime 

TAQA is a South African startup that was founded in 2018 and is aimed at promoting, preserving and celebrating African cultures and identities by leveraging both language and technology.

TAQA is a digital library of illustrated children's audiobooks in all 11 official South African languages.

In trying to speak to the importance of different languages and cultures, and in efforts to shy away from favouring specific a specific language, the name TAQA was chosen, as an acronym of the four founding members, namely:  Tsepang Khoboko, Akholiwe Fetsha, Qhawe Bula and Aphendulwa Ngqola.

This group of young, black South Africans was driven by their passion for community, culture, delivering knowledge and literature and developed the idea of "a digital platform that can be accessed anywhere at any time".

"We're very passionate about black people's sense of identity and having a good understanding of your history and culture and maybe what that means for the way you view yourself and the world around you - we identified language as a huge part of that," explains Bula.

Also read: It's Storytime! READ: A gold star and a kiss for Thoko (Download in English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi and Sesotho)

'Language is not just a medium of instruction'

Bula believes that the opportunity to enjoy entertainment and stories in one's mother tongue is a wonderful way to engage in storytelling in a way that preserves language and culture.

"Language is not just a medium of instruction," Bula told Parent24, making an example of the distinction between a cousin and a brother and how, linguistically, that distinction does not exist in many African languages. 

"That itself could lead to a different world view," he explained.

"Looking at African society and how we're evolving, I think we had a general concern for a loss of community and the general assault on black culture and history and identity that has occurred for the last say 500 years."

Bula expressed the driving force for the startup as "the love of people and the love of community" which spirals into other themes surrounding a sense of identity.

TAQA collects resources through partnerships with publishers and authors and sometimes does translations and recordings with the help of freelancers.

Currently, TAQA is running a children's stories podcast in partnership with Nal'ibali in 7 South African languages, namely isiXhosa, isiZulu, English, Tshivenda, Setswana, Sesotho, isiNdebele and English.

Access the podcast here

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