OPINION: I don’t mind my language



To my fellow English speaking South Africans, English is not my mother tongue. So no, I don’t speak my African languages to only skinner about you.  My language is way more sophisticated than that. It is bold, descriptive, romantic and fierce.

It seems to me that there is a taboo around speaking vernacular languages in academic spaces. If you don’t speak with a Model C accent, you are viewed as a not so intelligent sub human species with a primitive understanding of the world. Its been 39 years since black students protested against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools, yet we have academic institutions like Stellenbosch University who blatantly refuse to welcome and facilitate language diversity among students.

I used to chuckle whenever I’d hear students say, “I go to Virrts”. But now it makes me sad to hear it. Sad to see my fellow African Witsies morph their speech to fit into a nonsensical and uniform mould of what an educated black person should sound like. Language should be a tool to communicate with a diverse people not a weapon used to exclude students from academic discourse.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting the author of the Sesotho dictionary, Zulumathabo Zulu. I was going to write articles in the seSotho language for the first time and he was going to be my guide through it. I was in awe of the man’s accomplishments but at the same time I was intimidated by him for two reasons. Firstly, the seSotho I speak  has been infused with the other five languages that I use, so it’s not as sophisticated as his. Secondly, the man has written a whole seSotho dictionary and its focus is on my long time nemesis- MATHEMATICS!

The first question I asked him was how I as a young journalist could effectively use his book to write human interest stories? He smiled and eloquently explained that, “in seSotho, mathematics is derived from the ordinary and mundane concepts that people already understand.” He flipped through a copy of his book and randomly stopped on a page with the word ‘motshetshe’ listed on it. “As in the crease that is ironed down a pair of formal trousers?,” I naively asked. “Exactly, the angle that is formed by the crease is used in our language to explain the mathematical concept of angles and arches.” he replied.

He explained that African people have mathematical knowledge which is integrated as part of their lives, unlike the Western communities, where mathematics is more abstract. I experienced pure enlightenment and joy as I came to realise  how beautifully simple and complex my language is. It became so vividly apparent to me in that moment, that my language transcends barriers, it is versatile and far more refined than society gives it credit for.

Nasal speech does not make you sound more intelligent and speaking your mother tongue doesn’t make you stupid. Our language is an important part of our heritage, something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth. If we are not able to speak it and learn in our native tongues, I fear it may end up on the endangered species list.

So no, I don’t speak my mother tongue to just skinner about you. I choose to speak the languages that I do to be more imaginative, passionate and practical than that. 

Wits journalism introduces African language lecturers

Three indigenous speaking mentors have come to join the Wits journalism department to help students write in their native tongues.


Palesa ‘Deejay’ Manaleng, Vusi Mchunu and Zulumathabo Zulu will be assisting the students in writing their stories in Sesotho and isiZulu. They have joined the department in the wake of the many transformation conversations happening across the Wits campuses.


As an indigenous knowledge holder and practitioner, Zulu says he is excited about the opportunity because language is the most important part of cultural knowledge. “Language is the means of transmitting knowledge” he said and, “One of the roles of the traditional African society is to facilitate the transmission of cultural and survival knowledge for the future generations.”


Vuvuzela reported earlier in the year that Wits University was in the process of tabling a multilingual policy that will incorporate African languages into broader campus policy. This means students and lecturers will be able to use IsiZulu, Sesotho and South African sign language as mediums of instruction in and out of the classroom.

Manaleng told Wits Vuvuzela that the challenge facing indigenous languages is that they don’t have a proper platform. “We have buildings full of books written in English but barely a truckload in indigenous languages, “she said.


“We have been taught that it is ok to know indigenous languages but better to know English and to think and communicate in English,” Manaleng warns that should this continue, we could read about indigenous languages as things that existed once a long time ago.

LANGUAGE INCLUSITIVITY: English, isiZulu and seSotho languages are being incorporated into Witsvuvuzela's articles. Photo: Michelle Gumede

LANGUAGE INCLUSITIVITY: English, isiZulu and seSotho languages are being incorporated into Witsvuvuzela’s articles. Photo: Michelle Gumede


Anelisa Tuswa, one of the journalism students said that she is quite happy with the inclusion of African languages in general, but it would have been nice if we included other languages such as Xhosa were included, “I can only write in Xhosa and English.”


Head of Journalism School, Professor Anton Harber says that, “As part of our discussion on university transformation, we decided to experiment with multilingualism. One of the most fundamental problems with our news media is that there is very little print media in languages other than English and Afrikaans – and we need to play our role in addressing this. Apart from this, a journalist who is not multilingual will always struggle in this society – and journalism schools need to address this.”


Vuvuzela will be publishing more stories in isiZulu and seSotho in the following weeks until the end of this year.


Boqolotsi Ba Wits Bo Amohela Bakwetlisi Ba Puwo Tsa Setho

TSHEBEDISANO YA DI PUO: Vuvuzela etla kenyeletsa ditaba le mengolo ka dipuo tsa seZulu, seSotho leSengesemane. Senepe: Michelle Gumede

TSHEBEDISANO YA DI PUO: Vuvuzela etla kenyeletsa ditaba le mengolo ka dipuo tsa seZulu, seSotho leSengesemane. Senepe: Michelle Gumede

Lefapha la Boqolotsi ho Yunibesithi ya Witwatersrand le phatlaladitse kamohelo ya basuwe ba bararo ba tlang hotsheetsa, hotataisa le hokwetlisa bangodi ba koranta ya Vuvuzela ka hosebedisa maleme a Sesotho le seZulu. Hona hobolela hore koranta ya Vuvuzela etla kenyeletsa ditaba le mengolo ka dipuo tsa lapeng.


Palesa Deejay Manaleng, Vusi Mchunu le Zulumathabo Zulu ba mocheng wa hotsheetsa baithuti ba Boqolotsi ho Wits. Hona hoetsahala ka morao ho ditherisano tse amanang le diphethoho mona Wits.


Jwale ka setsibi le seetsahatsi ka maleme le bonono ba setso, Zulu o re o cheseha ha holo ka monyetla ona hobane puo ya selehae ke mocha o fetisang hape oboloka tsebo ya meetlo le bonono ba sechaba. Zulu o toboketsa tjena “Sechaba sa rona setshwanela hoikarabella ka tjantjello tabeng ena ka hoetsa bonnete ba hore puo le meetlo ya rona e ya tshireletswa sebakeng sa meloko etlang.”


Maqephe a Vuvuzela a ile a phatlalatsa maqalong a jara hore Wits ene ele makgatheng a hoteka leano la hosebediswa ha di puo tse fapafapaneng ka hokenyeletsa maleme a seAfrika ka hara sekolo eleng karolo ya melawana ya mophato wa Sekolo. Sena se bolela hore baithuti le basuwe ba tla dumellwa hosebedisa dipuo tsa Sesotho, seZulu le Polelomotwa ya dinthuntsebe ka hare le kantle ho diphaposi tsa dithuto.


Manaleng o behetse Vuvuzela hore diphephetso di tjametse dipuo tsa rona ka hohloka marangrang a tshwanetseng moo di ka sebediswang hore le tsona dintlafale. Manaleng oitse “Re nale meaho e tletseng matshwele a dibuka tse ngotsweng ka sengesemane empa tse ngotsweng ka dipuo tsa rona di haella.”


Manaleng a tshetleha tjena “Re rutilwe hore holekane hotseba maleme a rona a selehae feela ho molemo haholoholo hotseba, honahana le hobua sengesemane. Ha boemo bona bontse botota, Manaleng o hlokomedisa hore reka qetella rebala ka maleme a Afrika Borwa jwale ka tshomo e saleng e feta kgale.”


Emong wa baithuti ba Boqolotsi ho Wits eleng Anelisa Tuswa o re yena othabela hokenyeletswa ha maleme a setso ka kakaretso mona sekolong empa hone hokaba molemo ka hofetisisa ha hone hokenyeleditswe maleme a mang jwale ka Seqhotsa. Anelisa o qetelletse ka hore “Ke tseba hongola fela ka Seqhotsa leSengesemane.”


Hloho ya Mophato wa Boqolotsi, Ramophato Anton Harber o tshetleha tjena “Jwale ka karolo ya dipuisano ka diphetoho ho mophato wa dithuto tse phahameng, re nkile qeto ya hothakgola diteko tsa hongola ka dipuo tsa selehae ka hofapana. Engwe ya bothata ba motheo ke hore boqolotsi ba dingolwa jwale ka dikoranta ha bo kenyeletse dipuo tsa selehae tsa Afrika Borwa haesefela Sengesemane leSeburu – rehloka hophethahatsa karolo ya rona horarolleng ha bothata bona. Hadima moo, mongodi ya buang leleme le leleng feela, otla aparelwa ke mathata ka hara sechaba sa rona. Dikolo tsa boqolotsi dihloka hotobana le phephetso ena.”


Vuvuzela etla phatlalatsa ka Sesotho le seZulu dibekekeng tse tlang hoisa mafeleong a selemo.



Wits to adopt Zulu and Sotho languages

Read this article in isiZulu

Wits University is tabling a multilingual policy that will incorporate Sesotho and isiZulu as co-languages, along with English as an official part of campus life, in and outside the classroom.

The policy also proposes that SA Sign Language be included. The new policy proposal comes as a recommendation from the Strategic Planning Division which conducted a surveyed study of Wits students, academic staff, professional and support services staff and employees in outsourced services.

The study indicates that the number of Sesotho and IsiZulu speaking members of the Wits community are more or less equal.

“This has prompted the shift from a bilingual to a multilingual policy, the languages don’t compete, they are just used by speakers differently,” said Milani.

“We need broader visibility in the public space of our local languages in places like logos for instance.”

The previous language policy was adopted in 2003 where the university commited to developing Sesotho as a medium of instruction together with English. This meant researching and developing teaching resources along with developing the linguistic abilities of staff and students alike.

The translation of key documents such as application forms and rules, translation services in disciplinary hearings as well as multilingual and multicultural practices at ceremonies like graduations were some of the measures planned under the policy.

However, despite the plans the Sesotho language policy was never implemented by Wits.

“The need was identified but on the whole, no real concerted efforts were made,” said Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academics Prof Andrew Crouch.

Associate Professor of Linguistics Tommaso Milani said the previous policy was a ‘symbolic policy’, and no real progress was made on the ground to develop and implement Sesotho on campus. He said the policy was a document that indicated the university’s “good intentions” in relation to multilingualism but was never translated into real actions.

According to Milani, to avoid the pitfalls that struck the previous language policy, the university would have to make sure financial resources were allocated for the implementation of the new language policy. Any policy would remain “symbolic” if no or too little money is set aside for its implementation, said Milani.

Crouch agreed the project to make Wits multilingual would have to be budgeted for if it was to be successful.

“You don’t have to lose culture in the sea of economics,” Crouch said.

Talks on this multilingual language policy will continue until August and students and staff are encouraged to voice their opinion. Milani said that he hopes the policy will “espouse equality in a truly genuine way.”

Multilingualism is already part of the curriculum for Wits Medical School were students have to complete a local language course for them to graduate.

According to Karabo Ramugondo, MA African languages and Linguistics,  said the new policy would “ensure a multilingual institution where more than one language can be used for conceptualisation, thought and knowledge production.”

“We live in a multilingual and multicultural environment and this shift in policy allows for the development of the African languages beyond them being used as languages of communication at home,” said Ramugondo.

Read this article in isiZulu


No “good story” for African languages

More than a decade after Wits agreed to adopt Sesotho as a second language, the university is no closer to implementing this commitment.

In 2003 Wits University drew up a language policy that said the university would use an African language, Sesotho, as a medium for teaching and learning.

“The resources of the university need to be mobilised to enhance the language competencies of staff and students and, in partnership with the government, play a role in the development of one of South Africa’s African languages,” reads the policy.

However, while the policy has remained in effect its implementation has been hampered by a lack of resources.

“Unfortunately, I do not have a good story to tell … I think we must take some responsibility, we say one thing and we do another,” said Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib.

Habib said the current language policy was “all for show” and the university needs to be realistic about its ability to implement an African language for teaching. “We love the policy but where are we going to find the millions of rands? It’s all for show and not for the reality of where we are. It’s a symbolic statement we make [more] than a real statement,” he said.

The 2003 policy outlined the implementation of Sesotho in four phases however, a decade later, not a single phase of implementation has taken place. Phase one, offering Sesotho classes for staff members, was supposed to have been implemented in 2010.

The policy was adopted by Wits because government made it a requirement for all higher educational institutions to further transform. The university signed the policy but took little action to implement it.

THE ISSUE: Adam Habib in conversation about the Language Policy.

THE ISSUE: Vice- chancellor Prof Adam Habib in conversation about the Language Policy. Photo by: Anazi Zote

“The university said ‘let’s go into compliance and let’s tick the boxes’ and we kept quiet and nobody asked,” Habib said.

The university began to look at revising and implementing its policy last year after government said it would conduct a survey of indigenous languages at higher education institutions.

Prof Libby Meintjes, head of the School of Language and Literature Studies, said the first draft of a new language policy would be released in October.

“We are moving back to mother tongue teaching and if we cannot manage it in lectures we will have it in tutorials,” Meintjes said.

According to Meintjes, last year the university sent an email survey asking what was the preferred African language as a medium of learning and teaching. The results showed that isiZulu was in demand more than Sesotho.

“Staff and students put isiZulu ahead of Sesotho because of the language competence and the number of people that speak it but we don’t feel that because isiZulu has replaced Sesotho we will only go for isiZulu,” Meintjes said.

Habib said Wits needed to be honest about what it can do in terms of using African languages with current resources.

“We cannot spend so much time lying to ourselves. I think we should come into terms with it, if we don’t have the resources, the will, and we don’t have the courage, let’s not pretend that we do,” he said.

However, he concluded that Wits can achieve some kind of transformation, but it would be skewed by South Africa’s history.