Indigenous languages the backbone of our culture

Black people should take pride in the usage of indigenous languages more often than is presently the case, chairperson of the Indigenous Language Initiative for Advancement (Ilifa), Mabutho “Kid” Sithole said in an exclusive interview with Sunday World this week.

Sithole said black communities had to worry a great deal when there is an apparent demise of mother-tongue usage as home languages at schools and home, because if the trend were to be allowed to continue, the importance and relevance of African languages would diminish and vanish.

Logic, he said, dictated that “the African worldview ought to be mirrored and maintained through indigenous languages”, without which any attempt to claim sovereignty as black people will erode and be completely lost.

“The promotion of African languages includes the usage of izaga (proverbs), izisho (idioms) and other riches of indigenous languages in conversations… if we did that we would help to promote and transfer indigenous knowledge to every generation, and this is what we as Ilifa wish to advocate,” Sithole said.

“If this were not to happen, we will become a laughingstock of other cultures, and would have no contribution to make in our quest for our own cultural and linguistic renaissance,” he said.

He continued: “It sounds quite unseemly and disturbing to listen to African parents rebuking their children for using African languages and force-feeding them to use foreign languages such as English at home as a way of improving proficiency in a foreign language.

“We really need to be proud of our languages. Our homes should be a centre where such revolution begins.”

He warned that to shun using indigenous languages is tantamount to denying “ourselves the right to be who we are”, and to deny ourselves who we are would render the pan-African slogans such as Africa for the Africans at home and abroad, irrelevant.

“I am always amazed and puzzled to hear black parents telling their children: “What are you going to do with isiZulu or isiXhosa? What is the value of the African language. All tech-nology is transferred through foreign languages.

“This is not only to do our children a great disservice, but it is also to literally kill indigenous languages and their inherent richness, and the cultures that go with them,” says the buoyant cultural activist and actor and a great lover of indigenous languages.

Sithole said black people should be encouraged by the knowledge that “one of our own, Dr Bongeka Selepe, teaches isZulu at one of the universities in England”.

“If there is a quest for isiZulu and other African languages in England, it would be surprising if we as Africans choose to spurn our own indigenous languages,” he quipped.


Sithole sounded a word of warning to parents who harbour such thoughts, warning that the pan-Africanist project to reclaim “our humanity” is dependent on indigenous languages.

“This mentality must be expunged, and to do so requires a heavy dose of black consciousness that reminds us of our being, and that our cultures are not inferior to anyone else’s.”

To promote the use of mother tongue among black people, a media briefing is due to take place at Wandis Rest, Dube, Soweto, on January 16.

Sithole said he is indebted to the founder members of Ilifa who include Professor Somadoda Fikeni, Professor Mokhele Madise, Otsile Matlou, Professor Itumeleng Mothoagae, Tshepo Makudire, Mabutho Sithole, Lucky Mbatha (deceased), Dr Dumisa Sibiya, Gloria Kgoleng and Khanyi Mdziniso, among others.

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