I was just getting into my stride for the morning. I had woken, we had sent the kids to school and I had remained and gathered up the scattered remnants of izolo. I had sat down at my computer, the blinds open, about to start my day. And then my friend Mjo Zungu (Manzini!) smses me to ask me if I know what’s happening at UKZN with the language discussion. He tunes me to SAFM. So I move from the Doors’ ‘People are Strange’ to a discussion about UKZN’s decision to adopt isiZulu as a compulsory element of every degree offered at the university.
And as I listen I remember the ridicule and criticism (or at best, the cold indifference) I had received for attempting to introduce isiZulu in the lecture theatres. I remember translating the department of classics website into isiZulu, only to have my efforts harshly critiqued by a fellow academic. I also remember sitting in an interview, being asked point-blank why I should be hired to the post, a young white man – and how isiZulu had been a miraculous thing for me, getting me my very first lecturing job in the Pietermaritzburg Classics Department, working with some of the brightest, most challenging and creative people I have ever met. The first few conversations I had with the members of the isiZulu department, gathered around an urn in the Staff Room of the Old Main Building, paved the way for my MA, much of which was conducted and analysed ngesiZulu.
Congratulations, Alma Mater. I knew that you had it in you. Let nobody leave any one of your campuses having avoided contact with the language of my father and my home. They may not end up fluent, but they will certainly be able to greet someone and not mangle every name they encounter, and they will possibly have begun a future journey towards a more equitable distribution of linguistic power.
Halala! Amandla! Phambili nezilimi zendabuko!