Down memory lane…..Madiba rally

I was a journalist in South Africa during the time when Nelson Mandela was freed.   As can be expected it was a very exciting time in the country.  After he was freed there were rallies held around the country where he addressed the crowds, imploring everyone to work together peacefully to build a better South Africa.  There was a lot going on at that time, apartheid had just been abolished, on the one hand there was a feeling of optimism, of new beginnings, but on the other hand a feeling of uncertainness, people were  scared and thought the end was in sight.

I think at that time the world was definitely holding its breath to see if violence would erupt and the country would just be washed down the drain…

And in many ways South Africa  surprised the world.  By peacefully becoming a democracy.

So I was looking through my press cuttings and writings I did for SAPA (South African Press Association) and came across one of the rallies I covered.  It was held in Durban, KwaZulu Natal  – then the boiling pot of violence  between members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (Zulu clan) and the UDF (United Democratic Front)/Cosatu members who were both aligned to the ANC (Xhosa clan).  The big fear at that time was that violence would break out during this rally because of this existing rivalry between the Zulu’s and Xhosa’s.   Mandela, himself from the Xhosa clan, was also expected to make a call for peace in this province.

I remember it was an extremely hot day and according to my report about      150 000 people were gathered.  It was tense and  a few times the crowd had to be addressed to remain calm and settle down.  The eyes of the world were on us!

We at SAPA didn’t have mobile phones yet, which made our situation more stressful, because we had to get the story out first being with SAPA – the country’s own press association!  So after the rally we had to run to the office to file the story  and really struggled to get out amongst the masses, we were pushed from all sides!! Our colleagues from Reuters (UK) did have mobile phones so their story was out before the official SAPA one  – the editor was not happy, but what could we do!!!?

During that rally Nelson Mandela also called on the women of KwaZulu Natal to work towards peace in the province and I quote from my report:

“’You in your wisdom must begin the work of bringing peace to Natal.  Tell your sons, brothers and husbands you want peace and prosperity.’ 

He said that the women had shown in the past during crucial moments greater wisdom than their men folk.

‘Open the cooking pots and ask them why there is so little food inside.  When the rains come into your homes, place the hands of your men in the pools on the floor and ask them, why?

‘When your child ails, and you have no money to take it to a doctor, ask them, why?

‘There is only one answer, and that answer is our common deprivation.  Go out and meet the women of the other side.  The answer is the same.  Then take your men with you.”

Now, how much the women were involved in trying to bring peace in the communities I don’t think anyone will really know, although I can imagine that many took his words to heart.  I remember being really touched by his focus on the women to keep the peace.  I know that the violence between Inkatha and ANC supporters kept going during the nineties and maybe more sporadic during the 2000’s.  And the picture is far more complex than just fighting between these two groups, it involved other issues like social and economic as well as faction fighting, school unrest and loads more.  So is this beautiful province in South Africa finally at peace?



growing up bilingual

I was thinking the other day how Ireland has become more globalised and ‘open’ to other nations since we moved here some ten years ago.  When we just arrived in Ireland people would stare at you if you spoke something else than English.  These days most people won’t bat an eyelid when they hear you speak another language to your children and walking the streets of any city or town in Ireland is proof of that.  You’ll hear a wide variety languages:  Polish, Slovakish, different African languages, French, Spanish Portuguese and many more.  Ok they will still realise I am not Irish with my accent. But that has its advantages as well!

And I suppose more and more children grow up bilingual and even multilingual in Ireland as the country’s borders opened up to other countries joining the EU over the years. This is taking place against the background where bilinguals and multilinguals actually outnumber people speaking only one language in the world’s population.  Recent studies showed that between 60 – 75 per cent of the world’s population is bilingual. Wow!

Speaking about experience I can tell you that keeping the second language “alive” in an English speaking country, where most people are monolingual, is hard work.  But what is the option, if you want to raise bilingual children because your kids need to be able to communicate with their  family back in SA, you have to persevere.   It’s important that the child doesn’t think this language is some kind of strange secret language that only your family speaks.  Ha-ha.  I know they might sometimes feel embarrassed speaking a different language in front of their friends, especially just starting school and when they become those creatures called teenagers!!

And it is general knowledge that the earlier kids are introduced to another language the easier for them to learn it.  Children will inevitable confuse the two languages, so it is extremely important that they know which language they need to speak to whom.   And it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes, that is the way to learn.  We all know the best way to learn a languages is by speaking it!

Growing up bilingual definitely has more advantages in today’s global village, also culturally.  Sometimes it is like the United Nations in our house.  We speak Afrikaans at home, but because we both have a Dutch background Dutch words and pronunciation slips in. Our youngest who was born in Ireland, started speaking very late.  Maybe he wasn’t sure what language to speak?  I think to him the languages he heard was all one language in the beginning.  So he would put a sentence together with a wonderful mixture of Afrikaans and English and Dutch words!

Our children all learn Irish (Gaelic) at school – they start at primary level – and when they are in secondary school they have  to learn at least one other European language.  So they learn French.  Our eldest also learns Spanish.  Recently we had a Spanish student living with us for a week to learn English, but every now and then he and our eldest would convert to Spanish and we would speak Afrikaans and then remembering we have to speak English to him….

I suppose it is no wonder that one would sometimes just go completely blank and totally forget what the word was and in what language you had to answer the person.  Then they say it helps your memory when you are bilingual….  I rest my case.