The graffiti under the bridge catches my eye as I drive by. “Do you speak South African?”
And it gets me thinking. Well, I’m South African, so yes, I guess I do speak South African. But the question lingered with me. “Do you speak South African?” I ponder this for a while.
“Do I speak South African?” Do I really speak South African?” What does it mean to “speak” South African? South African is not a language. South Africa has 11 official languages of which I speak only two and know a couple of words from the others. Which one of those would be South African? Do I need to speak all 11 to be able to say I speak South African?
No, South African is not a language.
So what does it mean “Do you speak South African?”. Is it a cultural thing? Can only one part of this country actually claim to speak South African? What would that culture be?
“Do I speak South African?” What would qualify a person to be able to speak South African? It’s certainly not English or Afrikaans in my point of view. Neither is it Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho or any of the rest.
I’m South African and I speak one of the languages, but the question goes much deeper than that for me. My thoughts around this make me sad.
If speaking South African means being desensitised to the beggars on the street, looking straight ahead whilst someone motions how hungry they are, then perhaps I speak South African. If it means being relieved that the beggar doesn’t smash my car window, throw his body into the car and grab whatever valuables I may have forgotten to place in my boot, then I definitely speak South African. If I sit vigilantly everytime the car’s wheels come to a stop, keenly aware of my surroundings in case some gun wielding madman comes to take my car. Being petrified to drive alone at night – then yes, unfortunately I speak South African.
If it means hearing about rapes, murders and the most horrendous acts of torture (horrendous do you hear me?) on people and elderly citizens of this country and accepting this as part of the daily news headlines, then I’m ashamed to speak South African.
Not feeling safe in my own home. If an electric fence, state of the art alarm systems, cameras, beams, locked doors and gates, dogs and armed response are needed to help me feel safe in my own home, and to know I’m still not safe – does that mean I speak South African?
If it means not trusting the police, the very people meant to serve and protect us tax paying citizens then yes, I guess I speak South African.
If it means trying not to get upset by the everyday lawlessness that I see – from people driving through red traffic lights, to zero consideration for others, to the government of the country not being held accountable for theft and corruption – then I speak South African.
If it means feeling hopeless about the state of education in this country, where you barely need 35% to pass a level. Yes our government thinks it’s good enough for you to know 35% of the work prescribed to you. Feeling frustrated because the future will not be easy for us, or our children.
If it means sitting in the dark for hours on end because the power-utility can’t keep the lights on, I guess that means I speak South African. Or waiting for the looming water crises to hit, as we all know it will, it’s just a matter of time.
If it’s made to feel like a second class citizen because of the colour of my skin, called a colonialist, to not have job prospects and to be made to feel unwelcome in this country then yes I speak South African. Yes, our very own president sings “shoot the boer” (Boer = farmer, but in South Africa, if you are white, you’re almost automatically a boer). He tells the masses that the electricity problems we face now is because of apartheid (an abhorrent government of racial segregation that was abolished over 20 years ago). In fact, the arrival of the first white settlers back in 1652, are where the real problems come from (yes he actually said that and what’s worse is people believe him).
If it means having a president continually stirring racial tensions in this country, one that doesn’t have a Std. 3 level of education and has the gall to defend the R206 million homestead of Nkandla and his fire pool as if the nation are a bunch of complete dimwits – do I speak South African?
To know your fellow countryman (I’m sorry, the ones that do this are savages) set people alight for being a different nationality – is that speaking South African?
If I feel I can’t relate to this country and what I see happening on a daily basis – do I speak South African?
Do I really speak South African?
I don’t know.
Perhaps because I can’t relate to any of the above, on any level whatsoever, perhaps it means I don’t actually speak South African.
But them I’m left with the question… what do I speak then?… South Africa is all I know.