Not my mother’s tongue

By Camalita Naicker

Imagine trying to write your assignments and participate in tuts in a language you barely know. Rhodes University has a large number of second-language English speakers. Some of them have done English as a first language at school and the transfer to university is easy enough for them, But there are those who did not attend schools where English is the primary language and they have a much more difficult transition.

African Affairs cartoon

Mkateko Mdlhuli, who attended Peninqhotsa High School, said: “If I had been taught English properly I would not need to translate everything lecturers say into isiXhosa before I understand it.”

“The best way to prepare such a student is to help him overcome the language that will otherwise become his oppressor,” says Roy Naicker, the Principal of Nonhlevu Secondary, a
rural school in Groutville, KwaZulu- Natal. However, he stresses the importance of the mother tongue. English should not completely displace the role of the mother tongue in the home or the classroom. Luzuko Buku went to Mzokhanyo High and says that he still feels disadvantaged everyday by the way English was taught to him at school. “I have real difficulty in debating my opinion in tutorials because when the conversation becomes heated I cannot find the English vocabulary,” he said.

State policy on mother tongue education needs to ensure that there are mother tongue tertiary institutions that can compete with established English and Afrikaans language  universities. The only other solution appears to be better teaching of English language skills.


38 Responses to Not my mother’s tongue

  1. Mzo says:

    Camalita, did you deliberately interviewed your African Affairs colleague (Luzuko Buku)? I’m just curious

  2. Mawande says:

    Is this some kind of discrimination between students or what? We have leaders who did English as their second language and have more than just a degree. I think you did not have any story ideas for this section, who said second language speakers have difficulties towards their studies in English at Rhodes? Maybe you should consider a follow-up story with evidence of second language students having difficulties. and i’m still confused if you could interview your colleague. For this matter i think the so called “second language English speakers” are still around this Varsity and they are nowhere to go but study here. Even the fact that you even interviewed Roy Naicker has a QUESTION MARK (?). i have much to say but you need to look for options or more newsworthy stories than this….i’m out but will bounce back.

  3. jazzman says:

    I like the story and i think every second language English speaker do but the is a sentence that i think camalita did not think before writing it .The sentence,”Rhodes University has a large number of second-language English speakers”.When a first language speaker read this sentence he/she sees no problem but as a second language speaker I see it attacking the second language speakers, the only meaning that i get when reading this sentence is, Rhodes have large problem because of large number of second language speakers. This seems to be a distrimination agains second language speakers. I think this article is promoting the fact that we as second language speakers are a burden to the university.

  4. anonymous says:

    it seems as if our comments have been removed.why?

  5. ruactivate says:

    Anonymous, Activate policy is only to remove comments if they’re spam or completely irrelevant or obscene. Can you tell me which comments have been removed? If there are any legitimate comments that have been removed, I apologise. There might be a technical glitch somewhere.

  6. mbuzobuciko says:

    hayi ndisuke ndakhwanqiseka emveni kokuba ndifunde okubhalwe ngu “camalita”,.Okokuqala ngubani othe thina sinobunzima ekuthabatheni inxaxheba ezifundweni nakeznye izinto ezenziwayo apha kweliziko lemfundo ephakamileyo.Izibhalo zakho zikhokelela ekubeni sicinge okanye abanye bazibone njengomqobo kuledyunivesithi.Ndiyamxhasa uMawande xa esithi kufuneka nikhe niyabule kulekhampasi nenze udliwano-ndlebe nabafundi abasuka kwizikolo zaselokishini kuba kakade yonke lento ijoliswe kubo.

  7. Mzo says:

    “Mkateko Mdlhuli, who attended Peninqhotsa High School, said: “If I had been taught English properly I would not need to translate everything lecturers say into isiXhosa before I understand it.”” I don’t think Mkateko, a Shangaan, would say something like this.

  8. Mkateko Mdlhuli says:

    Camalita Naicker, I did not know that a journalist can answer a phone call and take notes at the same time, but after reading your insulting article particularly to us, the so-called third world English speakers, I’ve learnt that it is possible to conduct an interview and answer a phone call at the same time. Firstly, did you assume that I’m Xhosa, because I’m not, I’m Shangaan so why must I translate things into isiXhosa, because I can’t even speak Xhosa properly. I never said anything like that and you made me sound like I’m battling with English in public, while I’m not. You asked me, in fact you did not ask, you just told me that I did English in second language and I agreed, and I replied by saying I was not taught English properly in high school. I did not say I have to translate things, and why must I translate things that I know, for instance, you meant that for me to understand lectures, I must first translate the word water into Shangaan so that I can know the meaning. Get your facts right in future. In future please write what your interviewee says not what you think will be interesting to the public. My last question and comment on this matter, why did you interview your best friend, Luzuko Buku? And if that was how journalists conduct interviews, they are publishing wrong information.

    For the editor and Activate staff, why did you print an article like that, with mistakes, do you also believe that some students “barely know English” I think this is an insult to us. I believe that there are no students who “barely know English” at Rhodes, so I think it was rude for the whole Activate staff to print the article. One of my old lecturers sent me an email complaining about the article, which means a lot of people are furious about the article.

    I’m doing my third year which makes me wonder whether I’ve passed my first and second year by bribing lectures not to worry about my English, because you said I “barely know English”.

    In future, this is for the whole activate staff if it happens again that you run out of story ideas, do not go for insulting stories as your alternatives. I assume that the editor printed the article, because she had no options. Please people (particularly first world English speakers) remove your stereotypes about us (third world English speakers).

  9. Mzo says:

    One more comment from me. I hope this will be a lesson, not only to Camalita, but to all aspiring journalists. Don’t just assume that people won’t worry about their views being manipulated (to fit certain agendas) as long as their names are on paper. It is clear from reading Mkateko’s comments above that his views were manipulated to make the story interesting ( or to deliberately insult “third world English” speakers).
    Another thing, coming from a township or a rural school does not mean that someone “barely know English”. No, they wouldn’t have been here if that was the case. You are now giving an impression that when they applied to study here, they filled their application forms in Zulu, Xhosa, Venda etc. Next time please try to bear in mind that you are dealing with human beings ( who also have feelings and who can think). Media have the power to unite the society, but it can also divide people, so please remember that what you write is going to have an impact on your readers.

  10. Ndingu Nguye says:

    Could anyone pls tell me why western norms and values are seen as the gospel? Is activate by printing such an article or Camalita by writing it implying that the English language is thee norm? And thus by speaking another language as your first language ‘abnormal’. What is wrong with african languages? Are we forever going to refer back to the arguement about English being a universal language? Universal for whom?

    We (third world English speakers) have always looked to accomodate others. Why? Things really need to practically change! Camalita, could you do me a favour and comment in any South African language. We do have 12 official languages if you didn’t know!

  11. Camalita has a lack of knowledge; she did not bother herself about researching on the matter, she could have done a proper research instead of displaying her racial prejudice. Her article shows us that even though she is the “first world English Speaker” she has a lack of knowledge.

  12. hayi madoda!! sukani bo! ndithi masele ndiqwela ndiqongqothe ndiqubude lomphanda kuba sel’uwile kakade. Oh! MY Gosh! I ‘m dealing with the so-called “First World English speaker”, listen here my dali, being a Xhosa and keep quiet during tutorial seminars doesn’t mean that we lack verbal skills. to tell you the pure Holy truth I am a “Third rural language speaker” meaning that I’m far even from the second word English speakers. To give you a sip of my secrete-arriving at Rhodes last year, it was number five (5) on continent rankings. But the statement you’ve made that “it is dominated by second language speakers implies that they are bringing it down”, again listen hear, because of their dominion, Rhodes is currently number two (2). Don’t you think its because of their contribution hey?
    Those who are doing Journalism says that when conducting a research, try to find as much information as possible, trying to avoid such things. You should have asked other people who attend the same lecture with Mkateko to hear how is he coping, should have heard from his tutors and friends. Next time think carefully before you take pen and paper, especially with interviews, this is not cut and paste. You are dealing with people not baboons. Gone are those times where people would keep quiet enjoying seeing their names on papers regardless of what is written about a third language speaker, I think I have to come to a conclusion before breaking this English again but note that: we are different-we have different backgrounds-we are here for different purposes not to be Doctors in English. Lastly, I think bothering yourselves by second language speakers, who pay their fees themselves, won’t be a solution. I wish you can make a coment/suggestion/question on what you have started, remember to be yourself doesn’t require you to answer every question but being open to all questions. On behalf of the Third world English speakers…we are with you Second world English speakers on this struggle! Halala ngaye!!!(uJesu kephofu)…tshawuza mthakathi!!!!!!

  13. Activate is actually very biased. I wrote an article on zimbabwe and they decided not to publish it on their online edition.It was the only story that was not published online.I mean why?

  14. Is there some “quite” diplomacy on the side of activate on that issue?

  15. Oppie press put the whole paper online and they didn’t chop and change articles just like activate.

  16. People have spoken, but I’ve not heard anyone mention the fact of interviewing her relative in Kwazulu natal, is she trying to tell us that, the only person with an in-depth -knowledge about English second language spekears is her relatives!!! I mean she could have interviewed people from the department of Xhosa, Afrikaans, or someone from G.Town rather than facking an interview about her relative.

  17. Nicole! says:

    Thanks for your comments people, I like what you have said about the Western notion, even if we “barely know English” why must they bother, we know Xhosa, Zulu, Venda and we are proud of our languages, even if they call them indegenous languages. Lastly, can Camila herself comment, so that we can get the other side of the story.

  18. mawande says:

    Dipapang check what i have up there “even the fact that you even interviewed Roy Naicker has a QUESTION MARK (?).” i had put that down maybe you did not see or read it….

  19. Kim says:

    Activate is horrible and disgusting to the black nation even if I’m not black, but activate repoters are biased or underestimate blacks. Firstly, they don’t publish their articles, but they write badthings about them…

  20. Brave_Soul says:

    Ha….ha…ha, very farfetched Camalita. You know, it is very enraging when some body consludes with out a full understannding of the premises. let me consciencetize you a bit….Cam, first of all Mkateko it not Xhosa, hence your story is derailing and perplexing. Now, how can you expect him to translate everything into a language not even his mother tongue( as you said in your own extrapolation of his story). Secondly, how can a language be an oppressor. It seems as if you don’t know matter and movement. Again, i think i should do the honours of enlightening you. What doesn’t have a human brain can not oppress, but can only stimulate a certain stimuli. Saying that English is oppressing second language speakers at home and in Rhodes is just a hotchpotch. Baby, i think you should choose your words very carefully if you want to make it in this industry. i am a English second language speaker myself, does that mean i’m oppressed by English, Heeell no. In fact English is one of the languages i fill very comfortable when speaking because it embrases my diversity and consideration of others (what we call “Ubuntu” here in SA). Most of us have TVs in our homes, does this mean we do not watch generations, days, special assignment, because they are in English………Heeell no.

  21. Babalo Dada says:

    Camalita Naicker Do you know the meaning of being a responsible journalist? I guess you don’t. Your story shows some kind of laziness,it also shows that you are the kind of a reporter who is detached from reality( Your article is full of assumptions). it is likely that you you added some spices and salt to make your story taste nice, but it turns out that uyibaxile( you added too much salt/ you exaggerated).You had a story in your mind before you even tried to do research.
    A word of advice to you, set aside you own assumption and experiences before you deal with your subjects becase this may jeopordise your chances of getting the right facts. This applies to everything you do.let me go before i run out of my limited vocabulary as most of second language speakers struggle to participate “when the conversation becomes heated” . if what i said does not make sense I’m sure you know the reason- I’m not a 1st language speaker Ndingumxhosa ofunde ezilalini I barely know English i need a translator.

  22. Babalo Dada says:


    Im sorry for spelling and grammar mistakes. benidiqhutywa ngumsindo khange ndibe sa proof rida( on the first line of the last paragrahp i wrote you instead of your own…. and you you ).

    Jazzman i did not like the story. As for you MK ..stick to your Shangani or uzoba sengxakini.Im thinking of writing an article about people who cant speak Xhosa properly and i was thinking of using you as a main character. Uzoba li celebrity MK

  23. What does it mean to be an editor? last year I worked for Activate as a writer, what happened is that: if you are grouped with them to cover a certain story, they dump you and cover the story in private coz they don’t want your name to appear as a writer but as a victim of their stereotypes. These are the results of such selfishness. As a first year you should have thought again and again and I don’t know what happened this year because we could not go out as first year alone to cover a story especially of such a crucial issue. Gone are the times where you would write whatever you want to write about other people thinking that they’ll keep quiet. Its not that because we are quiet, we don’t have something to say, being at Rhodes which was previously regarded as “WHITES ONLY” university, doesn’t mean that we’re still afraid of what happened before,but psychological we are healed. So if you want us to return to the fold-we will with gladly hearts!!!!!!!

  24. when is the next edition coming out coz I look forward to seeing a column with an uncompromising apology?

  25. ruactivate says:

    I’m not going to comment about the story itself; I’m afraid you’ll all have to wait until the next edition appears on Thursday 24 May for Activate’s official response to these complaints.
    Despite that, I would like to clarify a few points about Activate’s writing and editing policies. It is not a fixed policy that first-years are teamed up with more senior writers on stories, but we consider it a good practice, and one which we probably should have applied in this case. Writers are not simply “dumped”; if they help in covering a story, their names should appear on the byline.
    Secondly we aim to adhere to the highest standards of journalism, but as a training newspaper, we are very vulnerable to human error. As with any other newspaper, articles are edited multiple times, and unfortunate statements and errors can creep into the process, in addition to errors the writers themselves may have made. But most of the time, articles are drastically improved in the editing process. If it were not for that, we might receive double the volume of complaints we received on this story every single edition.
    Thirdly, since I manage the Activate website, Diphaphang, if you could give me the date and slug for your story, I can track it and find out what happened to it. Also, what do you mean about “chopping and changing articles”? Please let me know, and I’m very happy to explain exactly what Activate’s editing policy is on that point. But if you want to be a journalist in the real world outside of campus, be prepared for far more “chopping and changing” than most articles receive at Activate. Once you hand an article over to a publication, it’s theirs and they can edit it and choose to run it or not run it as they please. That, of course, means that the publication must take the blame for articles that offend readers as much as the writers do. As you might observe on this comments page, that’s definitely happened in this case.

  26. Diphapang Mofokeng says:

    Can i warn people of something.Can you please not use other people’s names when you comment.rather use anonymous.Somebody used my name up there and faked to be Diphapang Mofokeng.The article faked reads:

    “People have spoken, but I’ve not heard anyone mention the fact of interviewing her relative in Kwazulu natal, is she trying to tell us that, the only person with an in-depth -knowledge about English second language spekears is her relatives!!! I mean she could have interviewed people from the department of Xhosa, Afrikaans, or someone from G.Town rather than facking an interview about her relative.”

    This is not my piece.If this happens we will not be motivated to contribute anymore bcoz ppl use our names.I don’t mind the content of the article but what i’m worried about is that people in future will use our names for their own purposed. PLEASE STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  27. Diphapang Mofokeng says:

    In response to Activate’s web manager, my article was on the previous edition and it’s title (i don’t know what slug means) is “LOUD DIPLOMACY WON’T HELP”.

  28. Bruce... says:

    Still I’m not convinced about your comments (the editor, Xanthe) as you published the article intentional, because someone complained about the article before it was published, but you went ahead and published it as you don’t care about your readers whether they get offended or not. As a reader of activate and an ex-writer, I know activate staff, they just don’t care, you are just doing things for your portfolios. That is why even if something is bad you don’t care at all. I’m trying to say that (as I can’t put it clearly because I “barely know English in Camila’s words”) the article was critiqued by some of Rhodes staff, particularly someone who works with English second language speakers, but you forced to publish it so that you can give us an excuse of, you are still grooming your young lying journalists.

  29. mindlozo ki says:

    clearly this article will perpetuate stereotype, racism and ethnocentric driven biasness and favouritism. Firstly by the fact that i dont pronounce english words properly does not mean that iam stupid, for a matter of fact i am smarter and more articulative than many english first language speakers in my class. Its just that i dont have the platform to express and explain myself in my mother tongue. Fortunate to those who study in their mother tounge, they go back to their homes to speak it, to chat amongst friends at Friars or Rat with it…. lastly i would like to state my concerns for Cammila who ever she is! may the words of Comrade Steve Bantubonke Biko “Black Consciousness” movement leader, rest upon her to know that this is Africa not England.

  30. Diphapang Mofokeng says:

    It looks like some comments have been removed.Any reason?

  31. Ngingu Nguye says:

    To Activate

    You claim that “[you] are very vulnerable to human error”. Please don’t make me laugh! That was no human error, but just laziness and a bunch of assumptions.
    Am difinately looking forward to your responce (Thursday 24)…although Camalita could at least by now given us some responce!!!

  32. Mawande says:

    i like it when we all have the same views about this DISCRIMINATION, its like we are fighting for freedom at Rhodes….hahaha thats not the case, i am prepared to suffer in degradation for my language ndingumxhosa wasemaxhoseni oxhoxhwe ngu-nxa eXhugxwala, uCamalita wenze esendoda eyathi isarha yeva ngeentonga zentombi kaludidi yaphuma iyabul’ ididizela ingazazi noba yenzeni….inqindi phezulu.

  33. ruactivate says:

    To respond to Diphaphang:
    “Loud diplomacy won’t help” was not presented in the newspaper as an article, but as a letter, and it’s our editorial policy to publish letters only in the print edition of the paper. If you wanted to put your piece on the website, you could have added it as a comment to an article. If you sent the piece to us with the intention of having it published as an article, not as a letter, you should have stated that in your email.
    The only comments I remember deleting from this thread are duplicates of other comments and mistakes where people have typed one letter in the “message” box and clicked “say it!” by accident. If I have deleted a legitimate comment, it’s unintentional and I do apologise for that. If anyone’s comment has been deleted, please feel free to re-post it.

  34. ruactivate says:

    Just a general warning: sometimes the comment dialogue boxes keep the information of the last person who commented in them, so that if you don’t change them, you end up commenting under another person’s name. Please always make sure you put your name and email address in the relevant boxes, even if you have commented on this thread before.

  35. mbuzobuciko says:

    Too many complaints have been posted about with reference to the story( if i might call it so) by camalita but still she has not responded,why?is it because it was another little mistake(according to them)at the expense of “us” as third language english stutters.

  36. Zandisile says:

    Why disadvantage and marganalise yourself by not learning English? Thats effectively what you do. You eliminate most chance you have of ever travelling abroad… It’s not a matter of racial preference, it’s a matter of fact…. it’s the way the world has evolved, like it or not. Uganda has over 100 languages… Zambia close to 100… English is spoken when you are in a foreign province. A language cannot be evil, but if you will see it as such, it will be to your own detriment.

  37. Genesis says:

    “Patience” is the key for English!
    Good luck.. And thank you for this useful writing..

  38. katproxy says:

    fantastic publish, very informative. I wonder why the opposite experts of this sector don’t notice this. You should continue your writing. I’m confident, you have
    a huge readers’ base already!

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