TWENTY-EIGHT years since Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote his famous book, Decolonising the Mind, some among South Africa’s black middle class still don’t understand the politics of language.

There are black parents in our multiracial suburbs who speak English to their children, to the extent that the children can neither speak nor understand a single African language.

Without realising it, these English-obsessed parents are breeding a bizarre group of identityless people who will neither be neither black nor white. In years to come, this culturally-floating group will be difficult to explain. What kind of a black South African would it be who can’t speak a single black language?

All South African black parents who speak English to their children don’t understand that they are living examples of the success of white people in relegating African culture.

Language is not a neutral conveyor of ideas; it is a culture-laden vehicle. Africans use language to show respect when they address older people. We don’t call our older sisters “Nancy” or our cousins “Peter”.

There is a prefix system in the structure of African languages that denotes respect. We say “Sis’ Thandi”, “Mzala Vusi” or “Bab’uDlamini”.

When the grannies throw riddles at our children it is a way of embedding culture in children. Thus the children grow up as part of distinct cultural groups in the midst of other cultures. This is how human life gains the colourfulness authored by the creator.

It is politics that teaches Africans to despise their culture, and to be proud of the English language and English culture.

Nothing in the English language is superior, and indeed nothing in African languages is inferior.

What is distorted is the mind of an African parent who teaches his or her child to speak English at the expense of an African language.

We Africans allow our children to be taught English at school simply because global politics has dealt us a historic blow. The English have vanquished us; they have made us their linguistic appendage. 

The process of “appendagisation” of Africans led to the situation in where “English … was assumed to be the natural language of literature and even political mediation between African people,” as Wa Thiong’o observes.

But, at the core, this was a political ploy designed by whites to make Africans believe that everything white is superior and everything black is inferior.

What, then, is wrong with the members of the black middle class in South Africa who try very hard to convert their children into little Englishmen? The Bible would say: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do are doing.”

White people tried it not only on Africans, but on other nations too. It did not succeed in China. It failed in Japan, and the Italians were hopeless in Ethiopia.

Ethiopians are proud of their official language, Amharic, and they don’t speak any European languages. They enlist the services of an interpreter when they need to communicate with Europeans, just as the Japanese do.

In fact, Japan demonstrated many moons ago that the notion that non-European countries can only make scientific progress only by adopting a European language is grossly fallacious.

Learning from Westerners, and using their language, the Japanese developed their economy to the extent that, until recently, it was the second-largest economy in the world. 

Today this second place in the world is occupied not by a European country but by another Asian country that clings tenaciously to its language: China.

All this is not to say that Europeans have not contributed ideas to human progress. Evidence abounds that they have indeed made an immense contribution to the development of science and technology.

Europeans themselves know, and are honest about the fact that their progress in science was in part a culmination of many discoveries made outside Europe.

Indeed, the people who lived outside Europe had made their own discoveries long before they came into contact with Europeans — hence the great civilisations of imperial China, Egypt, Aksum and Mapungubwe, to name a few.

Quite clearly what is known as Western science is a universal accumulation of human experience, and thus a truly universal heritage of mankind.

Africans should be as proud of Western scientific inventions as Europeans cherish the gold and diamonds buried in the African soil.

What, then, is wrong with the members of the black middle class in South Africa who try very hard to convert their children into little Englishmen? The Bible would say: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do are doing.” 

Such blacks don’t understand that astronomy can be studied in a non-European language. The Japanese study astronomydo.

These ignorant Africans don’t know that there are members of high society in China, truly educated human beings, who drive a Ferrari without speaking a word in Italian, English or French.

So please, dear stupid African, allow your child to become African. Leave the task of teaching English to teachers at school, and speak isiZulu, Sesotho or Tshivenda at home.

If you don’t understand the politics of language, please go to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s book Decolonising the Mind.

You will learn.

See more articles