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African languages languish, while one organ stands tall

Mondli Makhanya | 27 May, 2012

Promotion of African culture has to go beyond defending Jacob Zuma’s lifestyle

RELUCTANTLY, we return to the scene of the crime - the Goodman Gallery, that is. Reluctantly, because the subject has been so thoroughly exhausted in print, radio, television, shebeen, bar, dinner table and bus conversations.

Reluctantly, because it has become such an emotional, divisive and banal discussion, instead of one that can enrich our understanding of the society we are and want to be. Reluctantly, because it has overshadowed the incredible achievements of the out-of-this-world football team with the skull-and-crossbones insignia.

It is, nonetheless, a subject that cannot be avoided, no matter how hard we try. So, reluctantly, this lowly newspaperman delves back into this emotionally charged subject.

The lowly newspaperman delves back into the subject because he sees the promotion of African culture being reduced to the right of black men to sleep with as many women as possible.

Over the past two weeks, the national discourse has centred on the president’s right to liberally spray his fluids around. From political organisations and traditional African churches to the Black Management Forum, Black Lawyers’ Association and other black etcetera organisations, statements have come out defending black culture and African tradition.

Talk shows and newspaper letters have overflowed with venom about artist Brett Murray and the white population’s “arrogant” refusal to understand African culture.

Even Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, the Catholic priest who runs the Moral Regeneration Movement, came out in support of multiple sex partnerships.

Could it be that the Brett Murray saga is a wake-up call to black people to take their culture seriously? While we have the numbers, we have allowed the culture of the minorities to set the national culture agenda,” said the padre.

The defence of African culture, it seems, centres on the president’s multiple marriages, impregnations and other pleasant stuff he gets up to when he is supposed to be running the country.

Excessive sex, we are being told, is the epicentre of African culture. It must be defended at all costs. Now if ever there was racism, that is it.

As this column pointed out last week, this country just has to accept that it has a president who is uncomfortable with his clothes on and therefore takes them off the moment he gets a chance, and then does whatever people do when they are in the nude. That’s just how our man rolls.

In recent history, there have been big men such as Bill Clinton, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Mario Berlusconi, Moshe Katsav and John Edwards who have been caught with their pants unzipped. Were they practising African culture? NO. They were just being badly behaved powerful men.

The promotion of African culture has to go beyond defending Jacob Zuma’s lifestyle, which, if truth be told, disgusts the overwhelming majority of black people in this country. Corner any active ANC member and he will confess that one of his biggest issues with his leader is his King Mswati-level libido. The ANC knows it is a problem. Instead of dealing with it, it is making the artist the problem.

The notion that polygamy is pivotal to African culture is balderdash, as the cantankerous chief from Ulundi would say. Polygamy was never a norm in African society. Polygamous families were frowned upon, and children born into such situations were laughed at on the playgrounds.

Gender activist Nomboniso Gasa put it aptly in an article she wrote a few years ago when she reminded readers of a Zulu saying which says, “uluhlaza njengengane yases’thenjini” (you are as rude as a child from a polygamous family). The essence of this was that children from such families did not get adequate fatherly attention, competed for love and resources, and were generally known to be quarrelsome and disobedient. African society tolerated, but did not approve of, the practice. That is why it largely became a peripheral and quirky practice until 2009, when South Africans decided to elevate a polygamist to the highest office.

This lowly newspaperman wishes that those who want us to believe that the president’s penis is the repository of African culture should feel as strongly about the defence of the African language.

We have yet to hear the black etcetera organisations decry the destruction of the African language in the democratic dispensation. The black middle classes look down on indigenous languages and are making sure their children grow up speaking only one language: English.

The state is neglecting the development of these languages. Government schools and the universities are demoting African languages to inconvenient optional subjects. The death of these languages will herald the demise of African culture.