Talk proud in our African tongues

I am beginning to really like Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

According to reports this week, she, like me, takes a dim view of African children who nywersh-nywersh in English because they are too embarrassed to speak an African language.

I honestly don't blame the children because it's the parents who drill it into their tiny minds that it is "sophisticated" and "educated" to yak away in English, and learning to speak an African language is a "waste of time".

Years back, when I wrote a column for another newspaper, I lamented the ironic tragedy of black parents whose English is basically fanakalo, but who nevertheless force-feed their children English.

When their little brats bleat "daredeeh" and "mawmeeh" in public, they look around proudly to see if anyone else is appreciating the little ones' "brilliance".

Irritating. Ridiculous. Stupid!

One parent went as far as to call her daughter Knee-you (Neo), obviously taking her cue from the girl's white schoolmates who pronounced it like that.

And let no one try to feed me the poppycock that English is the language of education. That is no excuse to bury our own languages.

A colleague and mate of mine, coincidentally a former student of the deputy president (a former teacher), does not forget the occasion when he tried to speak to his "model C" daughter in Setswana while they were out shopping.

The little girl threw him an embarrassed stare and asked him to shoosh ... "you can't speak that language in public! What will people say?"

In the Mogale extended family there have been lots of funny-ha-ha-cum-embarrassing situations with children refusing to eat mogodu and trembling with fear when confronted with the delicacy.

"Oh dear, I can't eat that! Look, it's got hairs!"

A close relative who had the habit of forcing her children to speak only in English when there were visitors, almost broke into tears one night when her little girl jumbled her lines during a "live performance" in front of visitors.

The "model C" craze was still a new phenomenon, and the little girl had just started school after growing up in a family that spoke only Setswana.

She was chaperoned into the lounge to bid us adults good night (good manners) before retiring to bed. The mother beamed expectantly ... the kind of look that said: "Go girl go! Show them what your mawmeeh taught you."

Then she blurted out: "Good night Auntie Charlie, good night Uncle Betty."

"You said what? Repeat again," the mother chimed in, breaking the poor queen's language herself.

The little darling repeated her flawed lines, this time only louder and more emphatic.

The good deputy president had better also spread the message to her colleagues in government. Some of us would like to hear our beloved, soon to be departed president, utter just one word in an African language some day. Just one, Sir.