During my attendance at the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) program in South Africa, A South African participant asked me which language I speak in my country. I told her Portuguese. She then asked if I only speak Portuguese and I said yes. She told me how lucky I am because I only speak my language in my country. She was referring to the fact that South Africans are “forced” to speak English. This was my first time in South Africa and I did not know English was not the mother tongue and I was surprised to learn that the country has 11 languages.
I am not Portuguese, I am Angolan but I have spoken Portuguese since I was two years old. My whole family speaks Portuguese and in school I was taught in Portuguese. I am not lucky. I do not speak my language at all, in fact, I do not even know which language is mine. Angola has six national languages: Kikongo, Chokwe, Umbumdu , Kimbundu, Nganguela and Kwanyama. I heard my grandmother once or twice saying words in kimbundu and some Angolans songs quote kimbundu sayings. I do not even know what any of the words mean.
I did not realize the issue with language existed until I met south Africans and their hunger for ownership. I now understand that English is for south Africans what Portuguese is Angolans, natural handcuffs. Languages of the Portuguese, British and every other nation from Europe who colonized the African continent still have a hold on us.
Even though everyone in South Africa speaks fluent English they still speak one or two of their ethnic dialects. It is a way of fighting for their own, for standing for what is naturally them. South Africans are “rebels of hope” they speak Zulu every day, they greet you in Xhosa, compliment you in Sotho, sing in Swazi and so on…
I was amazed by their courage to maintain something so valuable. I found myself wanting to learn Zulu and understand those around me as they spoke Zulu all the time and do not care if you speak English or not. That is when I understood the passion South Africans have for being African through fighting to keep African dialects alive
Yes, I understand English is a global language and it can take you anywhere but how can you feel connected to your land without knowing which language your comrades used to cry, the language slaves used to scream their pain, the language your grandfather proposed to your grandmother…
South Africans showed me their leadership and how they run their country. Their pride for being African spoke to me. I heard several stories about their habits and customs, how until today they still allow their children to go to the mountains to be a man; how a man still needs to pay a certain amount to marry the girl of his dreams; how they still eat traditional food every day without the notion of eating healthy.
I could not see any European influence within South Africans. Yes, individuals are influenced by European’s fashion, entertainment, technology, sports and so on but these are just trends. This does not rule South Africans who still have the last word! South Africans are very African and proud. They are amazing people who speak loudly, dance spontaneously and are carefree like any other African.
Perhaps Angolans are scared to be African by embracing languages. What I know for sure is that I am black, I am African and I am very proud of the color of my skin and the place I was born. For this reason, I think Angolans should be more accepting of their continent and conserve our languages and other national treasures.
For this article and more of Lunga’s writing check out lunganoelia.com
Featured image | Zulu men | Willem van Valkenburg | flickr
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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