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The African, The African languages, The African Worldview

The African, The African languages, The African Worldview

by the South African singer-philosopher, Simphiwe Dana

  The Department of Linguistics in the Norwegian University of Science and
  Technology says – "If development is seen as the sustainable
  socio-cultural, economic & technological transformation of society, then
  language is important. Language is a granary, a repository of the
  world-view of its speakers, it is this particular language that best
  contains and expresses the indigenous belief systems of any society.
  New belief systems are immediately related to these existing systems. Then
  it goes without saying that a successful conceptualization and
  implementation of the societal transformation that is development can only
  be achieved through the use of the mother-tongues or the languages
  indigenous to the society."

  In other words the knowledge of how a people's world operates is contained
  in their languages, thousands of years of innovation contained in something
  as simple and unassuming as a language. Language permeates every sphere of
  our existence; how we relate to each other, culture; how we understand the
  divine within all of us and the unseeing eye, religion/spirituality, how we
  innovate and evolve, philosophy/science/commerce/education.
  MSC Okolo says – "The most virulent element working against the
  repackaging of the Afrikan personality is the vision of Afrika in colonial
  languages. Of all human inventions, language alone affects, structures,
  defines, interprets all other aspects of human life. Beliefs, ideas,
  ideologies, culture, knowledge, experience, values, prejudice are acquired
  & conveyed through language"

  Kwesi Kwaa Prah contends – "No society in the world has developed in a
  sustained and democratic fashion on the basis of a borrowed colonial
  language. Underdeveloped Afrika remains so partly on the account of
  cultural alienation structured in the context of the use of colonial

  In other words, the tragedy of Afrika is that it has thrown off its
  identity and ideas in the pursuit of colonial excellence, discarding
  thousands of years of crucial information without which Afrika is just a
  dumping ground for the evolutionary ideas of others. Others who have no
  idea of the Afrikan interpretation of our world and its value to said

  And finally Ali Mazrui asks – "Can any country take off if it relies on
  foreign languages for its discourse on development & transformation?"
  I quote these scholars to give weight to my argument that the key to
  African development and excellence lies in the knowledge systems contained
  in our languages.

  Western Culture has always had a superiority complex. If you do not fit
  into it's definition of what intelligence is then you are deemed of
  inferior intelligence. This has seen it play a paternal role and it is
  responsible for the genocide of a lot of cultures, in Afrika and elsewhere.
  The argument that English is the language of business globally does not
  really hold water. China, the biggest economy in the world today, does just
  fine without Anglicizing their society. In fact China has been able to
  innovate because, even though it has assimilated ideas of other cultures,
  it has remained steadfast in upholding Chinese language and thus culture. I
  believe that even its political system, which has been criticized a lot, is
  influenced by Chinese culture. What is important is that it works for them
  and has boosted their economy tremendously.

  The development of Afrika was curtailed by the advent of colonialism,
  which brought and enforced new concepts of being and new knowledge systems
  that were at odds with Afrikan knowledge systems.

  This is not to say that Afrika should have rejected all foreign knowledge
  – but I say Afrika should have rejected the wholesale cultural enforcement
  whose sole intention was to replace her own – and she tried and failed. It
  is difficult to say no when there's a gun pointed to your head.
  Civilizing Afrika has been the excuse of many a colonialist as they raped
  and plundered the continent, building monuments and leaving broken
  societies in their wake. That is still the case today with regards to our
  approach to education and specifically the languages of communication. We
  are still civilizing Afrika, because we believe that Afrika on her own has
  nothing of value to offer the world. This is the reason why we have not
  built on Afrika's achievements. These achievements are confined in our
  languages, our worldview. We are living on borrowed , supposedly superior

  To kill a tree you must cut off it's roots, if you only cut off the
  branches the tree will grow new branches come springtime. To kill a society
  you must disassociate them from what informs their worldview – their
  culture, their language, their identity. Then they shall forever be willing
  slaves to your agenda.

  Exploring Africa on their website says - A world-view can be thought of as
  a system of values, attitudes, and beliefs, which provide people with a
  mechanism to understand the world in which they live and everyday events
  and occurrences. Maybe we can think of a world-view as being like a
  language. Can you imagine how hard it would be to explain or understand
  everyday events and occurrences if we did not have language-words? Words
  are essential tools that help us explain and understand events and
  occurrences. Words and their meanings help shape the way we see, and
  therefore how we explain, events. Similarly, the world-view (values,
  attitudes, beliefs) that an individual learns from the time she is a baby
  provides a mechanism that influences how she understands all that happens
  to her, her community and the world in which she lives.
  What is meant when we speak of knowledge systems?
  South Africa is the last Afrikan country to gain independence from
  colonialism, albeit a compromise independence.

  I say compromise independence because we had to concede that since we had
  not won the battle, things could not go back to the way they were before
  colonialism. In actual fact, we had to concede, amongst other things, our
  identity to keep the peace. This is the reason why we are meeting today.
  This arrangement is not working out for all of us. Our education system is
  a defining case in point.

  All the other Afrikan countries that gained independence before South
  Afrika have not faired well. South Afrika might be the richest country in
  Afrika but this is not because the previously disadvantaged have made
  strides towards economic emancipation, but because of the compromise
  agreements that made sure it was business as usual after 1994. The
  compromise agreements more or less maintained the apartheid status quo. BEE
  is crumbs off the table, crumbs are only accessible to the few.
  The reason why Afrikan countries have, after independence, not done well
  is because they have not done away with colonial culture. I put it to you
  that Afrika has so internalized the inferiority complex inferred upon it by
  colonialism that they have feared to break away from colonial knowledge

  Those ones who had the capacity to lead us back to ourselves were
  systematically cut out of the Afrikan discourse. Steve Bantu Biko, Patrice
  Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Ken Saro-Wiwa to mention a few. That I'm mentioning
  males only, does not in anyway prove that there were no female activists,
  it merely proves that Afrika had its own problems even before colonialism.
  Patriarchy; which is a global problematic phenomenon.
  Can we blame Afrika for not trusting her own intelligence?

  Psychologists say that if you've been abused for long enough, without
  reprieve, you start to internalize the hate abuse comes with. You start to
  believe it is for your own good. You indeed start to see your abuser as
  saving you from yourself. You begin to distrust yourself and you lose
  yourself. Losing yourself has psychological ramifications. You cannot run
  away from yourself forever, the self-loathing will eventually catch up with
  you. Xenophobia, or more correctly put, Afrophobia is a case in point.
  So in Afrika, one by one countries are crumbling because they sought to
  maintain colonial systems instead of redreaming Afrika. By colonial systems
  I mean systems of governance, education systems, religious systems,
  language systems, cultural systems. Of course all these can be encompassed
  under language systems, as language is a repository of the way of being of
  its speakers. The systems are crumbling because the knowledge systems they
  are based on are foreign to the Afrikan landscape and thus the Afrikan
  cannot innovate based on them. It is in this context that in South Afrika
  those who benefited from apartheid can sometimes be heard complaining that
  the Afrikan government is taking the country to the dogs. Not only are they
  talking about corruption, I mean they were/are corrupt themselves, but
  mainly the mismanagement of the perfect system that they handed over to the
  Afrikan government. It should come as no surprise based on this why the
  Western Cape would be the most well run province even as it marginalizes
  Afrikans, Coloureds and Indians. The system can best be run by those whose
  knowledge systems it stems out of - and the system best serves those who
  know how to work it.

  That in no ways makes the Afrikan incapable, but sadly enough, everyone,
  including the Afrikan, believes it does.

  Look at the issue of education in South Afrika for instance. Government
  spends the most money on education, yet year after year the education
  crisis deepens. Yes we understand that despite the huge budgets there are
  still not enough resources to properly equip black schools that were
  disadvantaged by apartheid. We understand that the changes in the
  curriculum and their improper implementation have killed the morale of both
  teacher and learner.

  Here is something interesting though. Between 1953 and 1976 the apartheid
  government slowly phased in mother tongue education and for 8 years in a
  learner's life they were taught in their mother tongue. This improved the
  matric pass rate significantly. The abolishment of mother tongue education
  is what led to the Soweto Uprising. Thereafter the pass rate dropped to as
  low as 44% (Heugh, 1999).

  I believe that the introduction of mother tongue education alone would
  drastically improve learner results. To be able to have, explained to you,
  complex concepts in a language you understand and a language based on your
  worldview gives you an advantage. Currently those who have an advantage in
  our education systems are only those who are descendants of or have adopted
  the colonial culture and language. This further entrenches inferiority and
  superiority complexes.

  Now you may say that Afrikan languages have not developed enough in the
  past decades to carry complex concepts encompassed in our education. I
  would agree with you; but would say it is an easily remedied problem if our
  linguists are willing to play ball. For the development of language is not
  merely Afrikanising European terms, but finding ways to explain them within
  the world view of its speakers. For example you cannot translate television
  by calling it ithelevizhin. You must explain it within the context of the
  worldview of its speakers. Call it umabonakude, that which shows things
  that are not in your immediate environment.

  Coming to the Afrikan worldview. I believe that when Bantu Steve Biko
  spoke of Afrika giving the world a more human face he was referring to the
  harmonious, spiritual understanding and interaction of the Afrikan with her
  world, the reverence given to nature and the social cohesiveness as
  enshrined in the Ubuntu philosophy.

  But to give a human face to the world Afrika must first rediscover her own
  humanity. Biko spoke of this at length. That the aggressive dehumanization
  that blacks, particularly Afrikans suffered had to be met with an equally
  aggressive rehumanization, to infuse back life into the empty husk of the
  black man.

  What is this self-love he spoke of? Is it not the love for what makes an
  Afrikan human? What informs the humanity of an Afrikan? Is it not her
  worldview - her knowledge systems - her spirituality?

  Would it then not be fair to say that the beginning of the emancipation of
  an Afrikan starts with embracing her knowledge systems and her worldview?
  If language is the repository of the worldview of it's speakers, let South
  Afrika speak, be taught and do business in an Afrikan language. If
  development is seen as the sustainable socio-cultural, economic &
  technological transformation of society, let South Afrika speak, be taught
  and do business in an Afrikan language.

  If no society in the world has developed in a sustained and democratic
  fashion on the basis of a borrowed colonial language, let South Afrika
  speak, be taught and do business in an Afrikan language.
  I believe that any Afrikan language carries the worldview of all Afrikan
  ethnic groupings. It is the worldview that gave birth to language.
  I say this because across the Afrikan landscape cultural practices, devoid
  of colonial intrusion, are the same, of course give or take some slight
  differences. This is not to say that Afrikans live and have always lived in
  harmonious existence. It would be naïve to believe so. History belies the
  fact that tribes across the globe have always had their conflicts. This
  however does not dismiss the fact that tribes of Afrika, as with tribes of
  Europe, have strong cultural ties that bind.

  Our worldview as Afrika has given birth to our knowledge systems and our
  culture. These are the ties that bind. To strengthen them is to strengthen
  and fast track development.

  Ethnocentricity will not help the development of South Africa. We need to
  remember that we were Bantu way before we were Zulu, Venda, Tsonga, Sotho
  etc. Deny it if you will, but English is what brings us together as the
  people of South Africa – and English is eroding all the other languages and
  eroding African culture.

  We have a wealth of information that we are not tapping into. Afrika is a
  rich continent yet its inhabitants are poor. It is poor because we want to
  be importers of knowledge and innovation instead of exporters of such. This
  is a sure path to neocolonialism, and this time we will have no one but
  ourselves to blame if opportunists ransack and pillage our continent a
  second time while we continue to have famine in Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia.
  While we continue to have majority of Afrikans living on R550 a month.
  While we continue to have 500 000 unfilled vacancies because of a lack of


  Ultimately education in Afrika can only be seen in this context for it to
  have any real impact on our overall evolution. Education must teach Afrikan
  Excellence in a language that has the ability to carry the worldview from
  which stems thousands of years of Afrika's knowledge. At the World
  Conference on Science held in Budapest, July 1999 - the acknowledgement and
  endorsement by the global scientific community of the relevance of
  indigenous knowledge speaks to this vacuum we have left in the global
  community by our involuntary, and now increasingly voluntary, abandonment
  of our knowledge systems.

  Spiritually we do not know why we are here on earth. We do not know how or
  why we developed in such diverse ways – but increasingly we are finding
  that our individual cultural uniqueness puts us in a position to have
  information that the other does not have. We are finding that to keep our
  planet not only progressive; but healthy we all need to contribute to the
  global information pool. We are finding that to keep humanity healthy of
  mind and body we all need to contribute to the global spiritual pool.
  The question then is, what does Afrika currently have to contribute to the

  In conclusion; and bringing it home to South Afrika, the issue of language
  has reached significant proportions of importance. Our education system is
  in a mess because we insist on disadvantaging the majority of our children.
  It is grossly unfair that we force English, and in some small instances
  Afrikaans, down the throats of those to whom they are not mother tongues.
  Any child from anywhere would suffer greatly were they to be educated in a
  foreign language. Imagine that your English-speaking child were to be
  thrown into an education system that was solely rigged around the Xhosa
  culture and language. That child would feel very lost for the first few
  years, thus developing an inferiority complex that would stay with them
  into adulthood. I had the privilege of visiting a few black schools
  countrywide. This is where and when the impact of foreign languages within
  the schooling system was revealed to me. The learners could express
  themselves openly and passionately in their mother tongues, because this is
  the language of their birth. I would ask them a question in English and
  they would all of a sudden be tongue tied and stupid. This of course
  translates to their conduct as adults. We are voluntarily further
  entrenching inferiority complexes and we don't need to. What surprises me
  is that even the majority of teachers do not see English as the driving
  force behind the spectacular scholastic failure of our children. We are all
  so intoxicated by the perceived superiority of colonial languages even as
  our children drown in it. The only way to have our children succeed within
  this colonial culture is if from the very beginning we forfeit Afrikan
  culture and language and raise them within a colonial culture. Already most
  of us living in the cities are doing this. We're raising little European

  But what of the thousands of years of knowledge and innovation locked in
  our indigenous languages? Do we value this so much less that we are willing
  for the world never to enjoy the fruits of our innovation? Do we really
  believe that we have nothing to offer the world except within the confines
  of colonial innovation?

  Let's face it Afrikaans and English do nothing for Afrikan innovation, at
  best they further entrench a colonial culture. This is not to say its
  speakers don't deserve the right to speak their mother tongue. But
  innovation through them contributes nothing new to the world knowledge
  pool, it just regurgitates a European culture, a culture that has already
  made its strides and can perhaps offer nothing of relevance in the Afrikan
  context. Afrika must still have its moment, Afrika must still influence how
  the world is shaped and the secret lies in how it innovates. The sciences
  must still be understood from the perspective of Afrikan innovation. This
  is the human face that Afrika must still exhibit to the world.

  There is, indeed, an underlying psychological effect that has rendered
  African academics incapacitated when it comes to pushing for African
  innovations and excellence. There seems to be unwillingness on their part
  to let go of Eurocentric ideas of excellence; an unwillingness to embrace
  and build on African knowledge systems. This is evident in the failure to
  implement a well-researched and well-known, ideology that mother tongue
  education is best. This might be the biggest blunder that our education
  system has made. Thus out of 1.4 million learners that enter the education
  system only 100 000 come out equipped for the job market.

  Again, Kwesi Kwaa Prah contends – "No society in the world has developed
  in a sustained and democratic fashion on the basis of a borrowed colonial
  language. Underdeveloped Afrika remains so partly on the account of
  cultural alienation structured in the context of the use of colonial

  I will now apologize for my address being in English, had I been able to
  explain some of these complex philosophies in my own language I would have.
  Alas the conditioning goes very deep. I await your questions and thank you
  for your time.

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