It’s the tyranny of geography, Blade!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Not many people have the ability to connect the dots linking seemingly unrelated happenings.

For example, some ancient cultures were not aware of the relationship between sex and reproduction – which is hardly surprising given the nine month gap between the respective events.

(Some might argue that some modern cultures so the same, but I digress…)

The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that “Most former Model C primary schools in which English is the medium of instruction are scrapping African languages, thus forcing pupils to study Afrikaans as their official second language”.

And yesterday, The Star reported that “A poster showing a naked mixed-race couple embracing, part of a DA Students Organisation (Daso) campaign, is generating heat on Facebook and Twitter”.

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What’s the connection, you may ask?

Well, superficially, both stories have generated a flood of comments bemoaning the destruction of cultural mores and predicting dire consequences. (There’s nothing unusual in that, given that stories about pornographic television, road deaths, alcoholism, and corrupt politicians generate the same feedback from the same people.

I see a different underlying thread connecting the dots. I see an inevitable decline in indigenous African languages as we move toward a future where race and language are engulfed by a new national identity.

As a species, we tend to get dewy-eyed or violent or both about our language and culture, but in truth, both are simply by-products of geography.

For example, the Sámi people who are indigenous to the north polar regions have about 300 different words for quality of snow and winter pastures; which would hardly be the case if they dwelled in the Namib desert.

Traditional festivals such as celebrations of harvests or solstices only make sense in the part of the world where they originate. Geography dictates climatic conditions; which in turn dictate optimum times for celebrations or mating or sport.

Geography dictates the fashion sense which informs a culture: burnooses make as much sense in the Amazon basin as bikinis do in Siberian winter. Geography dictates architectural and engineering values and weapons development.

And in a bizarre sense, apartheid protected this status quo by keeping us geographically isolated.

With the end of apartheid came freedom from the tyranny of geography. Each of us is now free to live and work where we choose. Nowhere is this more visible than Gauteng which is truly the cultural melting pot of Africa.

And so we find that former Model C schools, even those with a majority black student population, are dropping instruction in isiZulu and isiXhosa.

I expect the only reason we have not yet heard from Blade Nzimande on the subject is because he has been rendered speechless by apoplexy. But consider this: No matter what Jimmy Manyi might think to the contrary, black people are not any more homogenous than any other group designated by race.

And so one today finds a situation where a Sotho man meets a Zulu woman and they fall in love and get married and start a family. What language do the kids speak?

The answer is that they speak whatever language the parents use to communicate with each other. And that language is generally English followed by Afrikaans.

Oh, they will still pick up their ancestral languages; mostly from grandparents. But the end to the tyranny of geography also means separation from the extended family structures that exist in ancestral towns and villages. What they know of their language based on holiday visits to grandma will be incorporated into Gauteng’s lingua franca which was once called tsotsi taal and is now generally referred to as scamto but will inevitably be incorporated into mainstream South African English which will be as different to the Queen’s language as its American or Australian variants.

And those forthcoming generations, now united by a common language, will find that race is no longer a cultural determinant.

Interracial unions will become commonplace, confirming the view expressed by the DA Student Organisation poster of a naked white man and black woman that “In our future you wouldn’t look twice.”

Lock up your daughters if you must. It won’t help.