“Xhosa is not just a language, it’s a culture,” says 26-year-old Cebisa Zono who has been writing in Xhosa since the early days of FunDza. Born in eNgqamakhwe in the Eastern Cape to a single mother, humble Cebisa says it’s his background that has shaped him into who he is today. “My passion for Xhosa hails from how I was raised within a rural Xhosa community which afforded me very key principles of life,” he humbly says.

Today Cebisa is a Fort Hare student studying isiXhosa and History. “I am very glad that I have been producing material that could be used for the betterment of other people.”

He says he wrote his first novel using an old two quire notebook while trying to tell himself a story about a difficult time he had been going through, using fictional characters. Although he says he feels that the particular story is not ready for publishing because it speaks about his personal life, it is how he got started, and how he realised his talent for telling stories.

Cebisa is the youngest of six siblings with his latter sibling older by eleven years. He says despite being raised by a single mother, he always felt like he had many parents, thanks to his older siblings who always looked after him. “My sisters would make sure that I was well looked after and taken care of while my mother was at work,” he says.

“My motivation for writing in Xhosa comes from an early realisation that Xhosa material was lacking, and I felt a great obligation to write in my mother tongue.”

He says he used to struggle to find relevant Xhosa books as the ones he would find were very old and catered for a different time period. “Even today there are still very few recent books that are published in Xhosa,” a thing which he says troubles him because he fears the language and culture may be getting lost in time. “Xhosa is gradually getting undermined as a lot of young people are seemingly drifting away more towards English.”

Cebisa encourages Xhosa writers to be bolder when using the language and argues that it is the duty of a Xhosa writer to build interest in it. He realises the importance of reaching out to the deeper more indigenous Xhosa because it is the one that he feels is being lost. “Today’s Xhosa has become very colloquial with a lot of borrowed English words, even Xhosa writers are not as strong,” he says. However, he says he does acknowledge writers who do practice writing in Xhosa even if in a somewhat colloquial manner as he feels that it may still build interest, acting as a starting point for the youth.

It was when he saw a great lack of interest in Xhosa that he started nurturing his talent and became motivated to further his studies in Xhosa and history in university. “History is equally important because without it there is no identity.”

He says his target is primarily the youth because they are the ones who seem to have heavily drifted to a more colloquial usage of Xhosa. “Xhosa is a very lovely language although not always easy; it teaches very core principles that are a part of who we are.”

“Xhosa is not just a language, it’s a culture, and cultures are very important because they offer guidance and fundamental life education,” he says. “Culture teaches a number of values like how to treat others, being neighbourly, to not be greedy, and to respect one’s elders and many more fundamental values.”

He prides himself on being ‘umXhosa’ (a Xhosa person) and pleads with other Xhosa people to not forget who they are. “Coming from a richly Xhosa background has taught me to prize respect and to love nature.”

“Where I come from, contrary to what many may believe, there is a very low dependence on government despite poor service delivery. People live life on a daily basis and work with what they have despite some very difficult struggles. This is owed to principles which teach people to be humble and to live together even with little. This is what makes Xhosa so important.”

He says he owes everything to his background because, “When you get to certain places knowing where you come from, you are able to keep a clear vision of where you would like to go even if you have to wear the exact same clothes repeatedly… A vision is very important because, without it, there is no direction.”

He makes an example of a car travelling at night from Cape Town to Johannesburg. “If you were to make such a journey, you would realise that the car’s front lights only reach as far as the road in front of you. It is very easy to lose hope because the journey is so far, but what keeps you going is the clear vision of the destination you are travelling to.”

He considers himself to have been very lucky for being a naturally curious and inquisitive person, saying these are qualities which enabled him to rise above where he comes from.

Cebisa has recently been featured in the recently published #LoveReading anthology which contains a number of short stories, essays and poems by a variety of writers.

Find Cebisa’s writing here.