In 2002 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned that about 3 000 languages were in danger of extinction. That was half of the current number in the world, at that time. It is believed that our African continent has already lost 52 languages. Some of the extinct African languages are: Horo, in Chad; Vandalic, in Tunisia; Singa, in Uganda; and IXam, in South Africa.

To understand my current problem, you have to understand my father. Tata is a dinosaur. Not like a T-Rex. That would be sick. Certain political types would be begging him to do their bidding. Land reform? No problem. Just have our T-Rex show up, stomp around, give a mighty roar, and people would go, “Here, you can have the land, the cattle, anything you want.” Problem solved.

No, my father is like a dinosaur in the ways that led to their extinction. He clings to old ways that don’t make sense anymore. He’s always going, “Blah, blah, blah,” about the importance of languages and African history, and the importance of doing things right.

Now, you see, my father is a plumber, owner of his own biz. As he tells each and every person he hires, “People count on us to fix their problems, to do things exactly right.”

Which is true. I’m not arguing with that point. Nobody – and I mean nobody – is going to be happy if, say, this happens. They hire a plumber to fix their toilet and once they’re gone, the toilet now flushes, but it causes sewage full of nasty things to come up out of the bathtub’s plug hole every time you try it. (True plumbing disaster story. Only one of many my Tata has, after being called in to fix somebody else’s huge mistake.)

Mama’s job is about seeing things done right, too. She is head of HR (that’s human resources) for a big company. She acts as the go-between for the company and their employees. So, she makes sure the company follows the nation’s employment laws, and makes sure employees understand the company’s policies. You see?

Not that some people can be helped. She makes it clear that if you look up naked pictures of people on the company computers you will be disciplined and probably fired. Yet every year – and I do mean Every. Single. Year. – there is at least one dude (and once a woman!) who ends up on the sorry road of unemployment. All because they couldn’t go eight hours without looking up nudie-pics.

So I do understand that rules can, and do, matter. But tell me, what would you rather say, “twenty-one” or “amashumi amabine ananye”?

But whenever I do that, Tata says, “In this house, we speak isiXhosa.”

Except he obviously doesn’t say that, because I am telling you this story in English. You know, the language of global business. The one that unites the world. The language that opens doors and gives you power. I mean, look at the facts. In the 2011 South African census, there were only 8,2 million people who speak isiXhosa as a home language. There are an estimated 19 million, however, who speak isiXhosa in our country and world-wide. Compare that to the 1,5 billion English speakers in the world.

Okay, okay, I admit it: that English figure includes people who do not speak English as a first language. But are you seriously going to try and compare low millions with billions? I mean … you do know a billion is a million million, right?


Let me get something straight here, I am not refusing to speak isiXhosa at home. I like it fine. It’s my history, my culture, and, to be honest, isiXhosa is nicer to the ear than English. But Tata getting all angry over me sometimes using English words at home, like numbers, is ridiculous. T-Rex needs to chill. There are just some English words that save time. Which makes sense.

Unless you are Tata, who claims that’s not the point.

And now he’s assigned me extra homework because of this disagreement. Can you believe it?


Tell us: Do you think Mavi’s father is being unreasonable to insist that every single word spoken at home must be isiXhosa? Does he need to ‘chill’?