Know your vernacular it might save you from muggers

Who says South Africans - we whose country is still nameless 12 years post-apartheid - are an angry, violent nation who kill each other at a whim?

Who says South Africans - we whose country is still nameless 12 years post-apartheid - are an angry, violent nation who kill each other at a whim?

I know I may be stirring up a hornet's nest, but ours is a great country.

We only have to rid it of corruption and political thieves.

I'll just get to the point.

In my long career as a journalist I have had the opportunity to travel abroad, to the US in particular.

There I also lived and worked in Detroit, where the majority of the population is black, in the mid-western state of Michigan.

Blacks in that country prefer the politically-correct title African-American, which emphasises their connection and their roots to the "motherland", Africa.

It is in Detroit where you will find Motown, the home of soul music and Anita Baker - remember her? It's also home to the great boxer Thomas Hearns.

Detroit is known as the world's car-manufacturing capital, hence its nickname, the motor city - Motown - so to speak.

But Detroit can be as violent as it gets, just like any other world-class city.

I remember flying back to Detroit from Los Angeles.

There I was sitting next to a black dude about my age.

The stewardess had taken our orders for the complimentary in-flight drinks when it happened.

This guy had ordered virtually everything. From beer to vodka to brandy to whisky, you name it. And he demanded that the drinks be served at once.

I was astounded when he began gulping one after the other. I suppose I had forgotten about my own beverage when he slapped me violently, saying "What' you lookin' at man, what' you starin' at?"

He was about to sock me another one when two elderly white ladies intervened.

Well, when we later alighted the poor fellow was carried off the plane in a wheelchair.

Another day I lost my bearings and took a wrong turn to work.

I tried to ask the black chap at the robot - traffic lights in the US - for directions to Jefferson Avenue, where I was headed.

He turned, obviously peeved: "What? Go back to Jamaica, man. I hate it when Jamaicans come into my town and ask for directions."

I tried to explain that I was not a Jamaican but a South African.

My man was not impressed. "Oh yeah, so you are a Nelson Mandela ."

What he said after that is unprintable. Anyway, I was lost and eventually late for work.

I longed for home and wished that someone was there to console me in Sesotho.

At least when you get mugged here you can negotiate your way out in your mother tongue.

Like the day, also during years gone by, when my almost impeccable vernacular saved me from some harm in a train.

The marauding gang that was terrorising the Vereeniging-bound train were Basotho and you survived only if you spoke to them in kind.

Like this: "You, who are you?"

"I am Molefe."

"Aha! So you are Motlokwa."

"Yes, wa mankga lefotha le mohla le sa nkgeng."

"Yes, monna, go well."