Blacks go the extra mile to learn other languages

Three weeks ago this column suggested that it was time we enhanced our nationhood and not focus on blacks scoring firsts.

Three weeks ago this column suggested that it was time we enhanced our nationhood and not focus on blacks scoring firsts.

That prompted an invitation to be a guest in a discussion on the same topic on the SABC's SAfm interactive show, Morning Talk, in which both bouquets and brickbats were thrown at me.

One caller even gave me a lecture on black consciousness. I thought he missed the point.

Here is hoping that today I make more friends than the last time.

We all are South Africans, supposedly united under one flag and national anthem. Right?

I know that many of us try to reach out to one another across our diverse racial and cultural lines.

But, it is undeniable that black people, those who speak indigenous African languages, actually over-extend themselves in reaching out - even among themselves.

How many times have you come across, say, two Batswana babbling away in broken isiZulu. Obviously, you say under your breath, "why are these fools making a spectacle of themselves?"

Well, this might explain why all black South Africans are multilingual, speaking all languages, including English and Afrikaans albeit haltingly.

Most whites, however, refuse to learn to speak any other language except their own in this country. Yes, it's true.

Take this fellow who took part in a television quiz show just the other day.

"Do you know the national anthem?

"Yes," he said, smiling confidently.

"What does the word Morena in the Sesotho version mean?"

Our man looked really bewildered. The smile faded and so did his chance to reach the cherished R1million grand prize.

He did not know, but he said he knew the anthem. Does he understand it, though?

The aspirant millionaire is not the only one suffering from this myopia.

If a gardener with zero education can put five words together in English, why can't his boss emulate him by learning his language?

What also gets my goat is how many whites mispronounce or misspell African names.

I always introduce myself as Themba Molefe but I have often been called differently, with my surname being confused with Molefi Mika, Sowetan sports editor's first name.

I assure you, blacks seldom falter. They remember how to spell Sean and Shaun and Shawn.

They know how to say Van Jaarsveld and can correctly pronounce Vanderbijlpark as well as write it.

Some years back, in a queue at a supermarket, two black women started to poke fun at a rather large white woman ahead of them. They spoke in Sesotho and were obviously enjoying themselves until she turned.

In clear Sesotho she politely said: "I know, I may be fat and tall, but you African ladies can get bigger, you know it."

The two were stunned and swiftly apologised. A friendship was born out of that little scene as the three started to chat animatedly.

That woman, it is obvious, knows what Morena means in the national anthem and probably sings it with passion. She does not mouth the words like the failed aspirant millionaire might.