‘I must learn to speak Xhosa’ and other white girl problems

Art, South African-style - bit of an 'eish' moment.
Art, South African-style – bit of an ‘eish’ moment.

Like much of life in South Africa, this artwork is funny and wrong in equal measures – rendered all the wrong-er by the small letter ‘x’, and by virtue of its hanging on the wall of a R50-odd million home in Llandudno where I had dinner a while back. At the same time, it sums up many of our good intentions which get swept by the wayside amidst the Kaapse Vonkel, Jacob Zuma and the maid who never comes back after Christmas.

When I moved back to South Africa, one of my priorities (after finding an affordable house in town with a sea and/or mountain view – ha!) was to learn to speak Xhosa. After living in Sweden for eight years and hating that I didn’t understand what was being said around me, I was determined not to repeat the experience in my own country. Plus, how would I re-integrate into this new South Africa if I didn’t speak the language? How would black and white people ever relate to one another on the same level?

Needless to say, this never happened. What happened instead was that I encountered a quote by god aka JM Coetzee, which said something along the lines of since millions of South Africans speak perfect Xhosa, why would anyone need me and my bad accent? Indeed. I realized I had an exaggerated sense of my own relevance, and that the wheels of poverty and corruption would keep turning whether or not I was able to ask the petrol attendant for R500 unleaded in his own language.

And, un-PC as this may be, I started to understand South African politics in a tribalistic sense. Once, me and my kind were the umkulukulu chiefs. We lorded over this country like arrogant, self-serving colonisers do for as long as we could get away with it. Now, we are the underlings, at the mercy of the people we quashed for centuries. We were defeated by our own greed, and now we need to shut the fuck up and be happy for small mercies.

My learning Xhosa will not change history, erase the past nor give deserving people homes with sea views. But as long as we have Kaapse vonkel and a sense of humour, we should remain sharp-sharp for a ncinci while longer.

(Not that I don’t think this guy is the coolest thing since samp and beans).


8 thoughts on “‘I must learn to speak Xhosa’ and other white girl problems

  1. “sorry ndingu mlungu mna ” Haibo Susan this has made my day:) how I came across this blog hahahaha anyhow am Glad I did. Love everything about it, makes me even more homesick and I will share with my fellow SAFAs who love all things South African! Your blog has brought back memories when I lived in CPT as a student, the Taxi rides from Muabrey to Kaape Toooown in that cape accent love how they pronounce wordsLols! Good times. Gatsbys and yumm that Mnqusho (Samp) Reciepe so cooking that next time I have visitors from home. Awesome job your doing definatetly keeping glued from now on. Thanks for the trip down to memory lane, stay blessed xoxox

  2. Ahhh ,mhen. I wish I couldav seen the video but it just couldn’t play on my phone. Every decision that we make in life has its pros and cons. And sometimes the voice of the negatives echos quite louder. Culture shock is unfortunatly something that s quite evident between cultures that are unfamiliar. Learning a cultures language is one way of getting access into that culture. And learning such things gives us more knowledge about the worLd around us and makes us divrse,mature individuals. Everytime I hear that someones interested in my language or culture,it makes me excited.I’m excited that you want to learn Xhosa and wish you all the best in finding someone thatl teach you :)

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