Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A valuable lesson from Thaba'Nchu (The Black Mountain)

I recently spent a week in Thaba'Nchu in the Eastern Free State. Close to Lesotho, this little, laid back town, with a lovely view of "The Black Mountain," gave me the chance to be away from the maddening crowd.  It also provided me with an unexpected lesson in inter-racial and inter-cultural relations.

During that week, I worked closely with a white teacher/farmer from Ficksburg and black university students who hail from within the area. It turned out that the white man spoke impeccable SeSotho with the correct accent. The Sotho youth could only open their mouths in amazement as this English man conversed with them in deep SeSotho and even  quoted proverbs that many of them could not understand. While they spoke the modern, colloquial version of their language, this man spoke the formal, undiluted version that they probably associate with their grandparents and other elders.

Interesting as that experience was, the lesson that I learned goes beyond knowing that some  white men are fluent in SeSotho. He is not the first or the last to do so. Back home, I have met white people (such as legendary Zimbabwe and international cricketer, Heath Streak) who speak fluent SiNdebele and I have met black people who speak Afrikaans as well as Jan Van Riebeeck probably did. My lesson was that we all need to know more about other people and other cultures. Even if we will never speak their languages, it is imperative that we open our hearts and minds to understand other people's ways, beliefs, and backgrounds. Here in South Africa, there are too many racial and ethnicity based stereotypes that contribute to making the term "Rainbow Nation" a laughable fairy tale.  Coupled with ignorance, the combination becomes lethal fuel for racism, ethnicism and xenophobia.

We need to get rid of wrong notions such as: All Xhosas and Zulus are stubborn, all Zimbabweans are Shonas, all West Africans are Nigerians and are drug dealers, all Sothos eat horse meat, all Afrikaners are racist, all black people are noisy, true Tswanas are only found in Botswana, Vendas are all dark skinned, all black people who speak English are not proud of being black; the list is endless. If we erase them from our minds, it will dawn upon us that we are more alike than we are different. We will realise that in any culture, good values are the same. We also need to realise that learning more about other people and adopting the good aspects of their  ways does not mean that we become lesser members of our own cultural societies. The Sotho speaking white son of Ficksburg is not a lesser English South African because of his knowledge of the ways of the Sotho people. He is more enlightened and enriched. Surely that renders him superior to many of us!

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