The race of the grasshopper

Ntendeni Luvhengo

First year journalism

When I was in grade five, I learnt that South Africa had different ethnic groups. Some examples of these ethnic groups are Venda, Tsonga and Sotho people. I knew about gender and racial barriers but had no idea that even people of the same race could be divided into different groups. I was surprised because I thought that all black people shared similar struggles and were bonded as one.

It was summer in my hometown of Venda. All Venda village children knew that summer meant one thing-catching locusts and grasshoppers. We used to catch grasshoppers when they were resting on leaves or plants. The technique is, like a cheetah wanting to catch prey; you slowly walk towards the grasshopper with your body bent a little. You should make sure that you make no sounds that can make the grasshopper fly away. As you arrive next to it, you quickly put your hand on the body of the grasshopper to prevent it from escaping.

The thing that drew my attention was the different names that Venda kids named different grasshoppers. I realised that, not only did apartheid leave racial barriers in South Africa, but it left ethnical barriers too.

The colourful, tasty, large and fast flying grasshoppers were called the ‘white’ grasshoppers. Every child in Venda wanted to catch the ‘white’ grasshoppers. The system of apartheid left many parents in confusion of how to raise their children. They could raise them in either a ‘white’ way or the ‘black’ way. Most of these parents chose the ‘white’ way because that was the most acceptable way of living. This would make it easier for their children to belong, be rich and open doors for them to achieve materialism. Most of parents feared raising their children in a way to make them be proud of being black.

I could observe the white-praising attitudes all the time in our everyday living. In Venda there are different types of mangoes. There is a certain mango species which every family has. This is the type that people call the ‘Venda’ mangoes because they are scattered everywhere, leave threads in between teeth when you eat them and are not as tasty as the so-called ‘white’ mangoes.

The ‘white’ mangoes were those that tasted better, were larger, more beautiful, rare and expensive if ever sold in markets. This was an indication that black people still thought that whites were more powerful, worthier and more important.

No child in Venda wanted to catch the Tsonga grasshoppers. The ‘Tsonga’ grasshopper was an extremely ugly, brown and stupid grasshopper. It was a type of grasshopper that if you tried to catch, not that someone would try to catch it, it would never escape. Nobody would want to catch that because it was called ‘bapu’ meaning stupid. It was above all reasons not tasty and those who caught it would be made fun of.

Its name came from people’s perception towards Tsonga people. Venda people thought that Tsonga people were lower class or not smart enough. There were fictional stories about Tsonga people being so confused when they went to urban areas. The grasshopper was named after Tsonga people because it used to get confused when one tried to catch it.

Venda people in most cases despised Tsonga people. If a Venda kid did something wrong, the mother of that child could usually say “litshani u nga mutshangana” which means, “stop acting like a shangaan person”.

I once went to visit my Tsonga grandmother at Giyani. I thought that when I arrived there, I was going to be one of the most important people because I grew up knowing that Tsonga people were lower class. Like in Venda, Tsonga children caught grasshoppers in summer. We always used to go to the fields to catch these tasty creatures. They too did call the powerful and strong grasshoppers ‘white’ grasshoppers. What surprised me was that they had no name for the brown ‘bapu’ grasshopper. They just used to say, “don’t catch that… (looked at me and said)…brown grasshopper”.

I was taught a life lesson when, one day at the fields, a small girl caught the ‘bapu’ grasshopper. My Tsonga friends laughed at her and said, ‘ha! ha! You caught the Venda grasshopper!’ Then she realised that she had made a mistake and looked at me with nothing to say. Another one of my Tsonga friends said, ‘sorry Ntendeni’. I had nothing to say, nothing at all.

I realised that whenever a Venda mother was telling her children to stop acting like a Shangaan, a Tsonga mother somewhere in South Africa was telling her children to stop acting as stupid as a Venda.

I make a promise to never despise other ethnic groups again. I also promise that I will never look down upon myself as a black again and I will never think that white people deserve better than I do. We are all equal.

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