Quest for Sepulana language's recognition gets major boost at Shatale library in Bushbuckridge

Quest for Sepulana language's recognition gets major boost at Shatale library in Bushbuckridge.
Quest for Sepulana language's recognition gets major boost at Shatale library in Bushbuckridge.
Image: 123RF/ iqoncept

Starting from this week when one walks into Shatale public library they will be welcomed by a plaque bearing the following information: 'Bobeyapuku bjo bo budiwe semmusho ke Mohlompegi MEC Mmane MNS Manana wa Kgoro ya Setjo, Go Kgana le Go te jabudisa ka di13 tsa Hlakubele 2014'.

In English it means: "This Library was officially opened by the Honourable MEC Ms MNS Manana of the Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation on the 13th of March 2014."

The symbolism for Bushbuckridge residents is that it is the first time that a government entity has agreed to use their long marginalised language in official signage after resisting concerted lobbying to adopt Sepulana on the signage as one of the official languages of Mpumalanga when a Provincial Languages Act was passed in 2014.

After decades of battling to have Sepulana recognised as an indigenous language worthy of its own space in the country, Mpumalanga finally enacted an act that would assist government communication that spoke to residents of the province.

Mpumalanga stretches from Bushbuckridge in the north to Nkomazi in the East, Standerton in the south and Emalahleni in the west.

However, in either its wisdom or folliness the department of culture, sports and recreation, which sponsored the Languages Act designated English, Afrikaans, Isindebele and SiSwati as the four official languages of the province; which meant they were the ones that every official communication would be produced in.

This was against a background that in Bushbuckridge especially none of those languages are spoken by sizeable numbers in the communities.

They speak Shangaan (not Xitsonga) and Sepulana (not Sepedi). Xitsonga and Sepedi were imposed on Bushbuckridge by the apartheid homeland governments of Lebowa and Gazankulu respectively.

During the homeland system Bushbuckridge was split into two ethnic enclaves. The great grandchildren of Manukusi (later named Soshangane) who trace their lineage to amaNdwandwe were forced to speak a language alien to their heroic ancestors. The same was with Mapulana who had Sepedi imposed in their daily life since each homeland had one language much to the detriment of other linguistic communities.

Thus, the narrative that Mapulana were Bapedi gained traction as apartheid intended. It was hurting to see the ANC government embracing the same narrative and even alleging Sepulana was a "dialect" of Sepedi.

Mpumalanga government refused to accord Sepulana its status regardless of advocacy by cultural bodies such as Bana Ba Tau Setlhano and Mapulaneng Writers Association.

Even PanSALB, whose mandate is development of indigenous languages has repeatedly failed to explain to Mapulana why their language is not accorded an official status even if it's in Mpumalanga regardless of music, films, literature and other artworks being produced in it.

That is why the signage at Shatale library was a breath of fresh air. The department has taken a first step towards provincial recognition of this great nation and the language of its ancestors. Hopefully the next step will be to set up Sepulana Language Units at all levels of government with the municipal Integrated Development Plan (IDP) of 2019 being produced wholly in Sepulana. Mapulana view the development as a positive one. Ketsotsone boweru! (There it is).

- Mashego is a cultural activist and a member of both Bana Ba Tau Setlhano and Mapulaneng Writers Association.

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