USE MOTHER TONGUE

ALLOWING young people the space and time to develop skills that will benefit them when they assume leadership roles is the backbone of the Anglo American and Sowetan Young Communicators Awards.

ALLOWING young people the space and time to develop skills that will benefit them when they assume leadership roles is the backbone of the Anglo American and Sowetan Young Communicators Awards.

This is an edited version of a speech by second-placed winner Reatlehile Jankie of Western Cape. It is titled African Languages in the Mist.

"Let us face the fact; young people are 'ditching' their own home languages for English. Most African children cannot read, write or even speak their mother tongue properly.

If you think about it, whenever we young people communicate with each other, our vocabulary of our own mother tongue is so low that we mix our languages with English. We say, "ndihungry, ke ya studisha, ke ya walka, or, nditired."

I can also guarantee you, the majority of young people subconsciously think in English. But why? This is because we young people have embraced the Western culture as our own.

That's why we have 'coconuts.' One of the things that really astonishes me is that the African middle class complain about how our languages are dying out, yet they could not be bothered to teach these languages to their own children.

I also know of African people who say they do not want their children to learn an indigenous language because they believe it will ruin their child's ability to speak English with fluency. I comprehend that English is the medium of instruction world-wide, but should it be at the expense of our indigenous languages.

When Indians came to South Africa in the 1800s they had their language, but within a few generations they lost it. Why? That is because they embraced Western culture as their own.

When I was in Durban I saw traditional Zulu dancers dancing for the tourists. Let us not deceive ourselves. They were not dancing because they are embracing their roots or because they are proud of who they are. They were dancing to make money!

This is a clear indication that we live in a society where every decision people make is based on whether they can make money or not.

So in years to come, if people ask us who we are, we might say we used to be African.

Until our new president sang umshini wam, African politicians would never have expressed themselves in their mother tongue.

And yet our president made us proud by expressing himself in one of our indigenous languages in his State of the Nation Address.

We young people go out in numbers to celebrate Halloween. How many youths discuss what it means to be African?

We ignore whatever is African, but embrace everything that is American or European.

Which direction do you think our South African languages are heading? Will they land up in some dusty book? Our languages are a reflection of who we are.

So, Batho ba batsha (young people), write, speak and articulate your thoughts in many other ways using your own indigenous languages!

When a language is lost, culture and identity is also lost."

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