Photography: Hazel Fasaha Tobo & Anthony Bila
1st published by Culture Review @www.culturereview.co.za
The consequences of the Western world creeping into Africa for its resources resulted in the unfortunate loss of Africa’s indigenous languages. Colonialism stunted and distorted the growth of African languages and culture. Foreign languages were obligatory to black South Africans until the revolt of the 1976 youth. Their main attack unto the apartheid system was seeking to be taught in their mother tongue. This was due to the realisation that language is a vital vehicle to culture and the ground on which identity rests. Fast forward to 40 years later to a democratic South Africa that should prioritise African cultures, but alas, indigenous languages are quarter to extinct.
In gentrified spaces like Maboneng and Braamfontein an urban culture is being cultivated by black hippies of a free South Africa. On Sundays you can locate them at the markets in their Sunday best, which is mostly the African print turbans and dashikis. Identity is major here hence the attires that scream Pan Africanism are just as pronounced as the Black Panther afro. Not to forget the matte hair, unkempt and pulped like cotton candy if not grown into magnificent long dread locks.
However, closer attention to detail reveals that the youth are not just a developing world dagga smoking bohemians; they are intellectuals in their own right. The topics discussed often evolve around black consciousness, black feminism and Pan Africanism. However the dismaying part is how black consciousness is discussed in the language used in most parts of Africa to oppress, wound and marginalise. One wonders if the attires are not a façade covering the untidy identity that dwells within. The use of English amongst other black South Africans is prevalent and pervasive in this city. The black consciousness space often uses grand academic rhetoric which often excludes those not as well educated and privy to such grammar and discourages those eager to learn more about blackness and their history. No wonder Juju commands the attention of multitudes.
In these city streets, your name is most likely to be mispronounced by another black person as it would be by a white person. Jo’ burg is a slaughter house where indigenous languages are forfeited heartlessly. An attempt by some leaves the language in disgrace as the accent is lost in too much twanging that words no longer mean what they should. There is a huge dilemma in the concrete jungle, of language and cultural impasse.
Have we voluntarily turned into the perpetrators of our own oppression? My writing of this article ngolwimi lluka George tells an interesting story on its own. Some of the excuses are that African languages do not sufficiently express scientific and technical terms but this has no valid basis. The most used justification is that English is an international language without considering that English is a minority language in Europe and Asia.Those who speak fluent English are applauded yet they might not equally articulate themselves in their mother tongue. The African print dashiki must eventually account for something, my brother from another mother.
Language is essential and indispensable to identity. We need to save our languages, this is a matter of urgency as it ensures protection of our cultural identity. The death of a people’s language undermines their identity and spirituality, we need to reinforce our languages back into our households, at our work places and amongst our hippie friends who ironically refer to themselves as Sankara, Nkrumah and use other revolutionist’s names as their aliases.