Mhlobo Jadezweni’s isiXhosa children’s book travels the world

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The last time we spoke to you, you were reporting on the XhosAfrika Conference held in Cape Town last year. Any new noteworthy developments surrounding that matter since then?

The Network made a submission to Parliament on the Language Bill. We hope that this submission will make parliament realise the importance of all the languages of South Africa. The 11 official languages of the republic of South Africa should be used at all times in all official communication. The bill as it was initially would have created a monolingual South Africa instead of a South Africa with a wealth of languages.

I remember the challenges identified were mainly the negative language attitudes of the speakers of isiXhosa and lack of financial support from government for languages in general. How has that been changed/addressed since then?

To change the attitudes of the speakers of isiXhosa is going to take quite a while as long as English is seen to be the preferred language. At the moment parents take their children to predominantly English-medium schools. If you ask them why, there is only one answer: “I want my child to learn to speak English.” If you were to follow this response by asking whether the parent would ask the same school to offer isiXhosa as one of the languages the child could enrol for, the answer would be a definite “no” for isiXhosa because the child can learn that at home or at the school in the township. This attitude comes from way back during apartheid days when languages like isiXhosa had no status at all.

XhosAfrika, together with like-minded people/organisations, are working on changing the minds of government as well as those of the parents and community. The schools in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape piloting isiXhosa as a medium of instruction are initiatives in the right direction and the country needs to applaud those involved in such projects as they are going to yield very good results for the future in education.

What projects have you been involved in since then?

I am involved with the teaching of creative writing (literature) for the Northern Cape’s Department of Sport, Arts and Culture. The Department organises 4 workshops per year for learners from grade 10 to 11. The products of these workshops (poetry and short stories) are compiled into a book which the Department publishes with Room-to-Read (there might be a new publisher for 2012). The learners write in English, Afrikaans and seTswana with a possibility of translations into other South African languages.

These workshops have been running for the past three years and already there are results beyond the school level as one former participant is already making a name for himself in the writing world. As one of these workshops coincides with the annual Writers’ Festival the learners get highly inspired when they meet with established writers. I have just attended the latest (4th) Writers’ Festival in Kimberley, which was held from March 1 to 3. This was a huge success, once again. I look forward to meeting my group of learners again in June. It is always a joy to meet these young people selected from different schools in the Northern Cape.

As chairman of the Board of Directors of the IsiXhosa National Lexicography Unit (XNLU) based at the University of Fort Hare in Alice I look forward to the publication of the mathematics dictionary in isiXhosa. This should happen by April if we work well with the publisher, Nutrend, based in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal.

Tell us about uTshepo Mude: Tall Enough - I believe it was first published in 2007 - what developments have there been since then?

This is isiZulu for UTshepo Mde (isiXhosa) published in 2006. Danisile Ntuli of UNISA translated isiXhosa into isiZulu. The book was later translated into Swedish by a publisher in Sweden. Afrikaans has the book entitled Groot Genoeg published by LAPA. This well-translated version is available at Protea Books in Stellenbosch and at Exclusive Books in Tyger Valley. Editorapeipolis in Brazil has published the Portuguese version entitled Grande Assim. This Portuguese version has a voice recording of isiXhosa which I did for the publisher. I take my hat off to them for this initiative. I am in negotiations with an organisation called Teach Twice based in the United States of America. They want to publish Tall Enough in as many languages of the world as possible and distribute the book all over the world.

What is the story about?

Tshepo is a little boy who wants to be tall. He decides to become a tree so that he can reach and see everything. The tribulations he experiences as a tree make him realise that he should rather accept who he is and wait for his turn and time to be tall. He is now down to Mother Earth.

This would be a wonderful book to distribute in schools. Any such plans?

Surely this is a story that all young readers will enjoy. If it were to be distributed to all the schools the question of not enough reading materials in isiXhosa would be addressed. This children’s story was written in isiXhosa before it was translated into English and other languages. There are not many like this, as most children’s books are translated from English and very often the translations are not good enough.

Arthur Attwell of Electric Books, who published the book in isiXhosa, made all the effort to get it into the schools, but this has not happened in the way in which one would like to see it happen. The Brazilian publisher reports that the book is distributed among all the schools in Brazil. This is highly appreciated. South Africa will surely look at the situation of literacy and consider buying and distributing books like UTshepo Mde / Tall Enough among all young readers.

We bought a copy from a man who showed up at our office front door and was selling them. How do sales and distribution work and where can people find more information about buying a copy?

Mxolisi Majola of Khayamandi, Stellenbosch saw the importance of selling and making books as accessible as possible to as many readers as possible. Selling from your car boot is not a familiar concept in our country, hence the initiative by Mxolisi. The bookshops are sometimes not easy to reach for most people, especially those who work during the week. Mxolisi walks from door to door and sells the book. At the moment he has the isiZulu UTshepo Mde in stock. The Afrikaans can be purchased from Protea Books or from Exclusive Books. Exclusive Books, in fact, had an agreement with Electric Books to stock the book at all their bookstores. We thank them for that gesture.

André Carvalho is the contact person at Editorapeiropolis in Brazil. Their website is Mxolisi Majola can be contacted at 0833654780. He lives in Khayamandi, Stellenbosch.

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