Broken English does not mean stupidity

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There exists a perception in Anglophone Africa that fluency in English — “good English” — is a measure of intelligence.  Fluency in English — as well as fluency in any other language — only illustrates linguistic intelligence, but does this mean anyone who struggles with English is a dom kop?

Battle of wits

After the Lindokuhle debacle, Principal Dlamini felt that Gomora Secondary needed something to lift the spirits of the pupils. He came up with the idea of a debating contest. The winner will go on to captain Gomora Secondary as they compete against the whole of Gauteng. This would give the pupils of Gomora the opportunity to prove that affluence — or the lack of it — does not determine intelligence, so said Melusi.

Melusi pushed his son Ntokozo and best friend Teddy into entering the debating contest. Ntokozo attains distinctions with little effort — much like how Usain Bolt won his races —but Teddy is a slow learner, “small brain” according to his mother, Zodwa.

Ntokozo had no desire for debating so he sabotaged himself behind the lectern, much to Principal Dlamini’s ire. Back at home, Melusi punished Ntokozo by making him spend the night in the garage.

Teddy practiced his debating speech at his mother’s shack. But he did so under difficult conditions. Zodwa constantly reminded him of how unintelligent he was, and he had to beg her for the mobile data necessary for research. Thankfully Gladys loaned him her laptop for research.

Teddy struggles with English language 

On the day of his first debate, Teddy struggled to present his argument; English never loved him and he never loved English. He was teased and laughed at, especially by the intellectually pompous Langa. Aware of his own brilliance, which is backed up by a strong command of the English language, Langa believed that he would romp to victory and become debating captain. After his first presentation, it seemed that Langa would have no meaningful opposition other than dark horse, Tshiamo, who competed splendidly, her inaccurate reference to Zimbabwe’s Shona language notwithstanding.

Teddy finds a new cheerleader 

At first, Buhle’s goal in encouraging Teddy was simply to annoy her brother, Langa. But after Teddy’s catastrophic performance on stage, Buhle took a genuine interest in his debating efforts. Even though she does not possess her brother’s book smarts, Buhle came up with a brilliant idea that would even the playing field; debate in the language that is most natural to you. Buhle offered herself as translator for Teddy. After proving to the judges that the rules did not prohibit the use of a translator, Teddy was permitted to debate in Kasi lingo. All of a sudden, Teddy was a fluent speaker offering compelling argument for allowing the South African school system to permit vernacular languages as medium of instruction, which was the day’s topic.

Teddy’s opponent, Tshiamo, was stunned, the Dlamini’s and cheerleader, Buhle, were ecstatic. Even mum, Zodwa, who was not his greatest fan in the beginning, has changed her view on the underdog. Teddy not only offered riveting entertainment this week. But he also served Gomora’s millions of viewers with a buffet of food for thought. He is not stupid after all, he just struggles with the English language.


Thathi brings down My Lord

Mohato, known in Gomora’s cesspool of vice as My Lord, has found himself a new disciple in the form of delinquent child, Lindokuhle. This is the natural progression of things is it not? Boys who sell drugs in the lavatory and assault school teachers graduate to stealing cars. Assisted by Mohato’s henchman, Sdumo, Lindokuhle waits until MaZet steals a car and then he takes it off her. With Mam Sonto still in bed with a gunshot wound – inflicted by none other than Mohato – the rival gang has moved in on Thathi’s territory, snatching not only their stolen cars but the clients too. It was the final straw (and the perfect trap) when Mohato gatecrashed Thathi and MaZet’s business meeting and walked off with all her clients, who are essentially thugs, so have absolutely no loyalty to anyone but the South African Rand.

As the feisty MaZet fumed, Thathi calmly poured a glass of celebratory wine. She had counted on Mohato taking her clients away. Her plan was to make Mohato give unsustainable discounts to the clients until he goes out of business. But the coup de grâce was when she arranged for MaZet to steal another car and deliver it to the mechanic for deactivation of security system. And just like the muscle brain that he is, Mohato took that car too. As he took receipt of the stolen vehicle, the boys in blue swooped onto the garage. What did I say earlier? Thieves have no loyalty to anyone but chelete; Lindokuhle, the mechanic and Sdumo fled the scene, leaving Mohato to try on a pair of shiny silver bracelets supplied by the SAPS. This is not good news for a recently paroled criminal. But it was great news to Thathi who had already popped open a bottle of champagne and ordered Pretty to give Sonto’s punters free drinks at the tavern.

Research, research, research!

The Gomora production team has done well to bring into the spotlight an important social issue, which is that of Africa’s veneration of the English language at the expense of vernacular tongues. Think about it, why must I receive my bank statements in English, as if England gave me the money, school lessons are conducted in foreign languages, driving tests all over Africa are in foreign languages, as if people in Japan – who take their driving lessons in Japanese – don’t drive cars. But the Gomora researchers got it wrong with Tshiamo’s argument during the debate session when she suggested that “we create our own Bantu languages, just like Zimbabwe did with Shona”.

The truth is that Zimbabwe did not have “Shona” until England decided that a cluster of similar sounding languages (ChiManyika, ChiKaranga, ChiZezuru, ChiKorekore) should be bunched together and become known as “Shona”, in apparent reference to Northern Ndebele nickname Tshona. The Ndebele people of Zimbabwe (belonging to the kingdom founded by King Mzilikazi) speak IsiNdebele, a language which is almost the same as IsiZulu. Back to “Shona”, white settlers then corrupted the word tshona to Shona which is what the world now perceives as Zimbabwe’s national language – eye roll.

This “Shona” language, which did not exist until colonisation, has contaminated the original dialects in the sense that Zimbabwean pupils are forced to take “standard Shona” examinations even though they speak their own dialects at home. This is the same argument that was so well presented by Teddy; let pupils speak in their own language, rather than English. Just as well that Tshiamo eventually lost to Teddy.

It’s a brand new week and I am anxious to see the outcome of the debate. Go Teddy!

Till next week, my pen is capped


Gomora airs week days at 7:30pm on Mzansi Magic

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