By Vusumzi Nobadula
In heterogeneous and [occupied] countries such as South Africa the spirited call by jazz singer Simphiwe Dana to use language for the purposes of preserving our [black African] culture – and the “Who is an African” debate in the City Press some time ago, need further examination.
Based on my own observation and experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that economic development or the successful retention of culture of a given group of people has nothing to do with what language they speak or choose to speak. It has everything to do with the support structures which exist in that community – which support all constructive ideas that seek to change that society for the better.
African-Americans in the United States were brought there as slaves from Africa and their original languages were completely obliterated as a deliberate application of that enslavement experiment. Despite that moral and psychological tragedy on their part, they are today regarded as the most successful minority group in the United States in the last century. They speak and conduct all their affairs in English.
Jewish minority groups succeed all over the world where their language, Hebrew, is spoken only in their homes. It is not the language of business and commerce outside of Israel.
The above-mentioned minority groups suffered horrendous atrocities and forced exile – but managed to keep their respective cultures and religions together under very difficult conditions. The black Americans still observe their kwaanza (celebration of African culture and heritage – from December 26 to January 1 each year) and the Black History Month every February – and the Jewish people still have their ancient scrolls in spite of being scattered all over the world for almost two millennia before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
That surely tells you something: if people have inner resilience and an iron will, they will remain intact and who they really are under any set of circumstances. We are better off here in South Africa because we are still living in our natural place of abode – and even those who were forced into exile during apartheid are back now. SA is now a constitutional democracy.
There are people in this country who cherish and promote the indigenous languages, such as Welcome Msomi (who translated Shakespeare’s Macbeth into Zulu and called it u-Mabatha); Dr Peter Mtuze and Dr Wele Manona (both lecturers at Rhodes University); Peter Bacela (of Umhlobo Wenene); Zolani Mkiva (former president Nelson Mandela’s official praise singer) and Siyavuya Sineke (SABC 1 news reader). If we really cared about our indigenous languages, these people would be elevated in society and given awards for their efforts.
Dr Mathole Motshekga, former Gauteng premier and executive director of the Kara Heritage Institute, said on SAfm the other day that the African Christmas is in September. He unfortunately did not link this date to any historical event, and so it becomes difficult for any black person to defend it when asked by a person from another race or culture to back up that claim by linking it to a specific historical event. I have never heard or seen people on any platform talking or promoting such an important date, as it were, in this country. What I normally see is national newspapers wishing their Jewish, Muslim and Hindu readers a happy observation of their respective holidays – never an African one. Why?
The only thing we can do is that our intelligentsia must begin to educate our people on the best way to achieve collective success and personal self-actualisation. Engaging in fraud and corruption as a short cut to success and power; killing albinos and other innocent people in order to remove their body parts to make muti that will make us powerful and feared – will forever make us the laughing stock of the free world. No proficiency in any indigenous language is going to save us from such grim reality.
Another very important point is that we must make use of the vast body of knowledge that has been contributed to the world by some of our best thinkers and scientists – the African agency – and the fact that we played a major role in world civilisation as any other racial group. We must use the African agency as our reference point if we want to claim our rightful place among the free peoples of the world. I say it again, we must promote our universities and invest massive resources in these institutions for world-class research to take place there. Sending hundreds of our brightest minds abroad leads to the brain drain the African continent continues to suffer from. We must act now as time is running out.
Why don’t we use this heritage to reverse the brain drain that continues to deprive Africa of its intellectual capital?
In the edited version of an address he gave at the All Africa Students’ Union conference recently that appeared in the City Press newspaper on September 12 last year, former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, painted a bleak picture of the damage done to the continent by the ravages of the continued brain drain of its intellectual capacity to European countries and the United States.
He writes in part: “One estimate said that Africa lost $1.2 billion (R8.4 billion) of investment in the 60 000 professionals who left the continent between 1985 and 1990. All this tells the truly frightening story that even as we are confronted with a weakening capacity of our universities to generate the new intellectual capital Africa needs, our continent continues to lose much of this capital through the emigration of our university and higher education graduates to the developed countries of the North.”
Lastly, in order to be respected by everybody else in the world, and in turn to find reason to respect ourselves as black Africans, we must start now to think very seriously about how we get ourselves out of this moral and psychological predicament.