In the evenings, after work, my other job begins. I go to people’s houses all over Joburg, lugging a small black bag filled with dictionaries and books of proverbs, old grammar books and tattered notes. The people I visit are monolingual, largely, or at best they speak two languages from the Indo-European family, such as English and German, or French, or Afrikaans. I go to these people’s houses and, for an hour at a time, I introduce them to the intricate complexity of my father-tongue, isiZulu.

Kusihlwa, emuva komsebenzi eCIE, uyaqala omunye umsebenzi. Ngihambela emakhaya abantu iGoli lonke, ngihudula isikhwanyana esimnyama esigcwele ichazimazwi, izincwadi zezaga, ezohlelo lolimi kanye nezincwajana ezimahlikihliki. Labantu engibahambelayo bathanda ukukhuluma isiNgisi kuphela, noma bakhuluma izilimi ezimbili zomndeni wolimi lwaseNdiya-Yurobhu, njengisiNgisi nesiJalimani, noma nesiFulenshi, noma nesiBhunu. Ngihambela emakhaya abo, esikhathini esinganga nehora elilodwa, ngibazise izinkimbinkimbi zolimi lukababa, isiZulu.

Sometimes we spend the whole hour battling with a single piece of grammar, or perfecting a phrase. Sometimes we end up discussing culture, or picking our way through the strange exceptions of English grammar. But I know that whatever we do, that hour moves them closer to their goal. They are tired of living and working with people whose languages they don’t understand, and with each hour they come closer to understanding. And each evening I leave their houses feeling like I’ve helped, at least in some small way, to bridge the divides in our society. I feel like I’ve helped a few of the millions of monolingual English speakers in our country to understand the almost twenty million speakers of an Nguni language. 

Kwesinye isikhathi sithatha ihora lonke sishikashikana nesiqephu esisodwa sohlelo lolimi, noma sigweda isisho kuze sithe wé. Kwesinye isikhathi sigcina ngokuxoxa nangamasiko, noma ngokucongobezela inqaba yohlelo lolimi lwesiNgisi. Kodwa ngiyazi ukuthi noma yini esenzayo, lelihora liyabasondeza emgomeni yabo. Bakhathele ukuhlalisana kanye nokusebenzisana nabantu abakhuluma izilimi ezingazwakali, kodwa ihora nehora bayasondela ekuqondeni kwalo lolimi. Njalo kusihlwa ngiphuma emakhaya abo ngizwa ukuthi ngibasizile, yize kancanyana nje, ukuwela amagebhe emphakathini wethu. Ngizwa ukuthi ngibasizile abambalwa bezigidi zabakhuluma isiNgisi kuphela ezweni lakithi, ukuze bazwane futhi bakhulume nabayizigidi ezingamashumi amabili besiNguni.

With this incredibly obvious fact, why do I have such a battle convincing people to learn at least one African language? The basic facts are that, despite the English language’s economic and social power, and claims that ‘everyone speaks English’, there are millions of people in this country for whom English is a second, third, or fourth language. And that means that, out of sheer courtesy and mutual respect, English speakers should make an effort to understand them. They make an immense effort to understand English – an effort which often goes unremarked and unrecognized. Try speaking a few sentences of isiZulu to a native speaker, and you will see just how difficult it is to think in another language. Or you could try reading the other half of this article. And if you don’t understand it yet, perhaps you should think about learning – if not isiZulu, then the language of those around you.

Uma kusobala kangaka, kungani ngishikashika ukubabonisa abantu ukufunda ulimi, noma olodwa nje, lwase-Afrika? Kuyiqiniso ukuthi, yize noma isiNgisi sinamandla omnotho nasemphakathini, kanye nemibono ethi ‘bonke abantu bayasikhuluma isiNgisi’, kunezigidi zabantu abakhuluma isiNgisi njengongolimi lwesibili, olwesithathu noma olwesine. Lokhu kuyinkomba yokuthi, ngokuthakazelana nangokuhloniphana, kufanele ukuthi abakhulumi besiNgisi bazame ukuzwana nabo. Bona bayazikhandla ukuzwa isiNgisi – ukuzikhandla okunganakwa ngabakhulumi baso. Zama ukukhuluma imisho embalwa yesiZulu nomkhulumi waso, uzobona ukuthi kulukhuni kangakanani ukucabanga ngolunye ulimi. Noma ungazama ukufunda lenye inxenye yalombiko. Uma ungakawuzwa kahle, mhlawumbe kufanele ucabange ngokufunda – uma kungesona isiZulu, ulimi lwabantu abhakhelene nawe.

And before you complain about the difficulty, or the effort, just put yourself in their shoes. Make the effort. Try to understand. You’ll realize that ‘giving is dishing up for oneself’.

Ngaphambi kokuthi ukhononde ngobunzima, noma ngeqhaza, zifake ezicathulweni zabo. Zikhandle. Zama ukuqondisisa. Uzobona ukuthi ‘ukuph’ ukuziphakela’.