South Africa, the country of my birth. The only country, in fact, I have ever known. I have always been proudly South African; I love this place, truly, deeply and passionately. Sure it has it’s problems, but then again, as does all countries, hey?
Our land is filled with a multitude of races, religions, cultures and languages. We don’t have only “Africans” and “Caucasians”. We have Blacks, Whites and Colored natives. We also have Indians, Asians, and many more – we embrace them all. It is the multitude of languages (we have 11 National Languages), however that reduced me to tears this afternoon. Language and shame left me standing there at the side of the road next to a taxi with a young black chap embracing me.
Let me start at the beginning.
When I got to the taxi rank this afternoon, this young black guy, about 25 years old, was obviously upset and very animated in the way he expressed himself. This young man was the guard of one of the taxis. In case you don’t know, the taxis operate with a driver and a guard. The guard’s job is to collect fares and direct the driver to where he needs to stop. None of the taxis were prepared to drive out to the Bay for 4 passengers, as it already was too late. What upset him was the fact that they (the driver and him) were prepared to go, but they had to wait their turn. I was listening to him venting his frustration, in Afrikaans, at the rank master. After about 10 minutes of this (in which time 4 taxis had been loaded and left) the rank master caved and allowed them to jump the queue.
We loaded the taxi with a mix of passengers for different areas, the Bay being the last stop. En route I continually caught myself listening to the way he spoke Afrikaans. His pronunciation of words and grammar was exquisite, to say the least. He had this beautiful way to make the words roll of this tongue. I decided to compliment him on it when I got off. As the ride continued, he kept talking, and it got me thinking about the many languages of our country. I felt ashamed. How “proudly South African” am I if I can’t speak any of the other languages, other than my mother tongue (Afrikaans) or English? I have never attempted even to learn and traditionally African language. Does that not make me a hypocrite then?
My stop was the last on their route. I got out and this is how the conversation went (only it was in Afrikaans):
Me: Excuse me, I know you are in a hurry, but there is something I want to say to you.
Young Guard: Yes Ma’am?
M: I have always said that I am a proud South African, but today you made me hang my head in shame.
Confusion and shock washed over his face. I started to speak and could feel the emotion well up in my throat (I am very connected to emotion and it does not take much to drive me to tears)
YG: I don’t understand Ma’am
M: You speak Afrikaans with such love, so clearly, yet it is not your mother tongue. (At this point the tears started rolling). I claim to be proudly South African, yet I have never even tried to learn your language.
That is how language reduced me to tears, it left me standing at the side of the road next to a taxi. The next moment this you guy embraced me, softly patting me on the back. His parting words to me:
“Don’t worry Ma’am. I appreciate your kind words. We have a long way to go in this country yet. You will learn my language, of that I have no doubt. The fact that you can not speak my mother’s tongue does not make you any less my sister.”
South Africa, motherland, I love you and all God’s people.