I gave this speech to the South Africa Principal’s Association back in 2013.
Hello everyone, Goeie Middag. Molweni. Ninjani? Ndiyaphila. NguCraig igama lam. NguCharnock ifani yam. Ningandibiza Makhosi. Ndiyavuya kakhulu ukunibona apha namhlanje. Kodwa ke ndizakuthetha isilungu ngoku kuba baninzi abazundiqonda! Uyabo?
(Hi everyone, how are you? I’m good. Craig is my first name, Charnock my surname. You can call me Makhosi. I’m very happy to see you all here today. But now Im going to speak English because many wont understand me otherwise. Get it?)
1. Language as a Bridge:
Just as language can create a divide, ostracizing people, excluding them, so can language learning be used as a bridge, as a way to unite people, as a way to transform society.
Today in these next 20 odd minutes, I hope to inspire you to learn an African language yourself, to make sure your scholars learn, as well as to honour the various languages spoken in your schools. I also intend to share some of my ideas around how this can be achieved in the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in and how such principles are part of the new education we need.
It is not about speaking the language fluently, although that would be fantastic. Its about NOT ignoring the advice of Madiba and missing an opportunity to honour the people and cultures of our country who suffered most, who sacrificed most, and who still remain at tremendous disadvantage, at great cost to all of us. Even the very basics of language learning can convey respect and acceptance, and can build bridges towards stronger relationship. Its about a simple greeting, its about pronouncing a person’s name correctly, its about knowing our people’s cultural heritage, instead of which wife king Henry beheaded!
Mandela lived this truth by learning the Afrikaans language, history and culture, allowing him to empathise, build trust and connect in a way that eventually allowed our great nation to be born!
In fact, he said: “This is the best way to contribute to nation building and reconciliation.” He also said “speak to a man in a language he understands and you speak to his head, speak to a man in his own language and you speak to his heart”.
So consider all those children and scholars in your schools who you are just not connecting with in the ways you could!
2. Balanced Transformation
Isn’t it strange how we expect the previously and still disadvantaged to learn our western languages and at the same time learn complex, abstract, extremely difficult subjects in those languages, and to excel in them, and yet there is no expectation for us, the privileged and advantaged, to learn even a basic greeting or how to pronounce people’s names.
There are plenty of great excuses for not learning any languages besides business essentials, but besides financial priorities, high-speed lifestyles, and endless interests and distractions, there lurks an unconscious legacy that continues to poison our society!
As a young adult, I began to notice consciously the great injustices and imbalances in our social system. Apartheid had ended and this was not about laws or human rights, it was about basic tokens of cultural appreciation and respect. I realized I knew nothing about the Xhosa people I loved, beyond that they travelled from townships to my home. Whilst they knew my language and interacted in my culture, there were few visible social efforts to reciprocate this token of respect and connection. It seemed strange to me that the very people who had so generously forgiven and allowed a peaceful transition, were still so marginalized in terms of culture and language. It was as if there culture had no value!
This was Apartheid’s greatest crime. It dehumanized black folks by making them feel and seem less than human. And it dehumanized white folks by manipulating them to buy into the propaganda of fear and superiority. (Black people shown massive effort to forgive and tolerate white people and they allowed their great leader Mandela to forgive us on their behalf. But have white people made that same or comparable effort? We have had the opportunity to reverse this dynamic, but it takes effort, humility, courage. Have we waited too late?)
Our country is suffering from two wounds: one for the oppressed, who are economically disconnected from the nation and one for the oppressors, who are spiritually disconnected from themselves and the nation’s pain!
Language learning addresses both these needs! It rehumanises cultures, by demonstrating value through effort! And it rehumanises language learners by encouraging awareness, empathy, humility and connection.
Having lived in a Xhosa village as an adult, in an “other” culture, having lived and experienced the richness of rural life, having experienced the joys and struggles of low income living, the warmth, acceptance, encouragement and welcoming of the people and having gained respect, insight and empathy through the process of language learning as an adult, I have seen the value of the cultures we have all assumed to be backward and out-dated.
Balanced transformation is acknowledging that western culture has as much to learn from African cultures as we expect them to learn from us, and that without this realization, we will continue to create the current culture as we see every day in our papers – exploitation, greed, ethical hypocrisy, violence and corruption, something European and American powers have modeled very well for our current leaders. We need to shift our perspective of people, culture and the world. We all need to transform, especially those who already have power and privilege!
3. Following the Calling:
I have not always spoken isiXhosa, and quite frankly my Xhosa needs a lot of work. It is not nearly as good as most African people’s English. Considering the resources and support I have at my disposal compared to theirs, I have great admiration for the language competency of African peoples and tremendous respect for the difficulties of any type of learning in a tongue other than one’s own!
As a young adult, I decided that the best way I could honour the people of my country was to go and experience their culture in the purest form I could find, to see them as a people, and not as a symptom of a corrupt society and system, one that dehumanized them intentionally.
At 23, I lived in a rural Xhosa village for 8 months as a part of a family and a willing servant to them. I cooked, I cleaned, I washed dishes, I fetched wood and water, I struggled to sing and dance in a language I did not understand, I felt like a fool. I studied Xhosa and practiced whenever I could, often coming across as a right idiot. My favourite and most important phrase became, “Hayibo, andiyazi”, which means, “gosh, I don’t have a clue (I don’t know it)”, applicable across a wide number of scenarios. It was a tremendous and enriching experience, for which I am truly grateful. (I long to see this replicated for other privileged whities, and all privileged people who have forgotten how to appreciate what they have and how to appreciate the disadvantages of others).
When I returned to Cape Town, I became a volunteer at a Xhosa high school (LEAP Science and Maths) in the life orientation classroom for 8 months, where I continued to use my basic Xhosa language skills and cultural awareness to communicate empathy and respect to the learners. I learnt first hand, (though indirectly) what it was like for our teenage youth, the challenges they faced socially, economically, emotionally, spiritually, practically, let alone academically, learning subjects with little context in a language that was not their mother tongue.
During my time volunteering, other people began to observe and witness the obvious depth and warmth of relationship that developed, between me and the learners, and I was asked if I could teach people to speak Xhosa. And so UBuntu Bridge began! Without teaching qualifications, without formal language learning, without any business degrees or diplomas, or even experience, I have somehow found myself running a language teaching organisation for 8 years and have taught to government, corporates, schools, NGOs, scholastic organisations and members of the public.
Teaching Xhosa and promoting respect for indigenous wisdoms and culture had become my calling, without any of the right quaifications! But where one is called, one will find a way!
What I have noticed is that passion, the right attitude and dedication to a calling in service to others can manifest prosperous, creative, productive, job-creating people, regardless of what marks they got for what subjects at school. Empower children with beliefs and the right attitudes, as well as certain competencies, and they will make their own success!
Speaking of calling, I am also called to performance, and using video, music and humour as part of how I wish to get my message across. You have seen an example of that in my Quite a White Ou videos, songs, melodies, lyrics and concepts which were conceived in the week I spent walking down the remote Pondo land coast of the Transkei in 2010, near where I had lived in a village in 2003-2004!
In today’s world, teachers, schools and parents are going to find it increasingly difficult to compete with the media, with entertainment, with gaming, virtual reality and 3D cinema for the attention of children. Education is going to need to keep up with the times and make use of modern technology and popular culture to teach children not only in ways that are relevant to them, but in ways that inspire them to pay attention in the first place!
I love technology, innovation, creativity. I am busy developing video lessons, online platforms, mobile lessons and more music videos to bring language learning alive. Funding welcome! I believe we live in a very exciting time, where we have immense power to create the future we want to see on the planet. It is just that we have become stuck in a pattern of fear and greed, of short-sighted thinking and of manipulating and indulging base level impulses and desires.
Its time to start thinking out the box. We need to find a balance between the old worlds and the new. Technology may very well be our saving grace, if we don’t let it consume our souls first.
5. The Village Experience
Whilst technology is vital for education, and certainly I will continue to use it in how I teach Xhosa, there is something else which I think is vital for not only our nation’s language learning programmes, but also for addressing the cultural imbalance I have referred to a few times today!
As part of the early years of the business, I organized and facilitated what I call the UBuntu Bridge Village and Township experiences, where I took groups to live in village homesteads with Xhosa families, including teenage children, students, adults, business people, etc. The benefits to those I took were profound, with some returning the following years. They experienced dramatic improvements to their language ability.
“Studies have shown that learners will learn a language best if they engage in activities that require them to use the language in ways that it is used outside the classroom”(Bachman, 1990).
By spending time in the beautiful rural villages and the vibrant township locations, where people are incredibly welcoming of anyone who comes with a respectful intention, learners were not only forced into the immersion opportunities so crucial to learning a language, but they could also begin to empathise with Xhosa people’s culture and history, they began to value the homelands that the people were so blessed with, and the struggles of their lives in the townships.
Personally and others have shared similar sentiments, I developed a deeper appreciation for the modcons in our lives back home in the cities, something which we so quickly begin to take for granted. Electricity, clean running water, kettles, stoves, home stereo systems to name a few!
The benefits to the villagers and township residents are also profound, besides being fun. It generates income for households, with potential to draw back family members from the townships (if they want) or creates employment within them, it generates complimentary micro-enterprises, and it instills a sense of pride and worth in indigenous culture and their spirit of perseverance in the face of adversity!
I would like to see this as part of school curriculum, that every teenage scholar go through a mandatory cultural immersion experience before they leave school. The ways in which it could work are up to schools, or education departments to decide. Perhaps a week in grade 10 and a month in grade 11, or even just regular weekends. Who knows, but what it would create is a generation of citizens emerging with multicultural empathy, language skills, a true sense of nationhood, empowering people with experience and creating business models that could redistribute wealth in a way that could solve a lot of our social problems!
Imagine the potential lying unlocked in our poor communities across our country AND in the minds and hearts of the privileged who themselves remain trapped in their own aloof and apathetic isolation from other cultures around them. It’s a true and valuable exchange system!
With specifically the village experiences, I believe it could be a worldwide model for sustainable de-urbanisation and geographic re-distribution of resources, instead of so much unsustainable pressure building up in cities, as well as a tool for reconciliation.
Imagine if this were implemented in Israel and Palestine. Would they still bomb each other if their children were living in each other’s homes? I don’t think so!
And let us not forget the beauty of living in these less inhabited and less developed parts of our country, and that perhaps we may rediscover how to sing and dance with more joyful abandon, taking ourselves a little less seriously, judging each other a little less.
Whilst it is lonely and overwhelming for the few of us who have already done it, it could be a united exercise in national healing and enrichment like never seen before.
6. A Brave New World:
Perhaps ironically, there are two Chinese wisdoms I wish to share with you all.
The first: “Unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are going” – Chinese Proverb – you gotta love that one.
The second is the story of the Chinese characters for Crisis as combining the characters for danger + opportunity! It is appropriate that an out-dated education system is not working in our new, young and completely original country! So what we really have is not so much a crisis and a great degree of danger, but an opportunity for change!
It’s a different world today from the one kids grew up in 10, 15, 200 years ago, so who knows exactly what and how to teach them, but it sure needs to be different!
It has not changed, however, in terms of the most fundamental needs of children and people. We need to have a place in society, to find our contentment in a calling. We need passion, respect, self-worth, confidence, intuition, problem-solving skills, empathy, emotional intelligence and communication ability. These are the ingredients for true success in society, not a tiny percentage of A aggregates.
We need our children to start seeing each other as part of the same team, not as against each other, to see competition as something to inspire us, not as a measure of self-worth. In this way, no child is left behind!
If the goal of our education system is to create balanced, healthy, confident individuals who understand that their well-being, joy and success in life is about their relationship to others as much as their relationship to themselves, then
I am here today to say that I can think of no better or more crucial way to instill so many of these values and skills then by incorporating cultural immersion experiences with a language learning focus, making use of technology and edutainment.
So, yes, language builds a bridge to people, between people and between cultures. But it is not just language learning that we are engaging with. We are working on the fundamentals problems and solutions in society today – self-respect and respect for others!
Show respect, gain respect.
With great respect to all of you and your important roles in society,
Ndiyabulela, Ke ya leboha, Siyabonga, Baie dankie, I thank you!
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We are very much in need of any form of support or funding or willingness to be involved and make this a successful movement, for the good of our nation.