GOB!G Quote of the Day

Monday, May 21, 2007

Plato and the humbling, admirable, odd white man

A total rarity it is for one to come across humbling moments from complete strangers. Let alone one that leaves you in near-paralysis. More like arresting flabbergast that leaves you jaw-dropping as you try to catch your breath.

Well, I felt like that emotional cocktail was served me cold last week whilst I went to order my latest book, The Republic, Plato – at Exclusive books, Woodlands Boulevard. Whilst at my business, this odd looking, but interesting white man started talking on his cellphone.

For a moment I refused to believe what my ears were clearly hearing, until – yes I snooped on someone’s conversation – I confirmed my total disbelief. The old, odd man was speaking an African language. To add voodoo to my ears, the tongue was my home language, xiTsonga (Shangaan).

I admired that and him. I found it humbling that somebody from a race that popularly disregards indigenous languages could speak, not Zulu, not Xhosa (most farm whites speak those two), but xiTsonga. My admiration was dampened a bit with a pint of jealousy. Why? He spoke the Shangaan the real ‘makoya’ way. Like they speak it in Mozambique and Giyani (in the Northern Province), respectively.

I approached him with the barest confidence I could muster in a spare of the moment.
“Is that shagaan that you just spoke so eloquently and originally,” I asked in Shangaan too – although the watered down version which I felt didn’t compete with his. He spoke his with finesse. To paraphrase him:

“Yes it is. You see, we live together. In a changed world. And I work with people who speak these African languages… God meant for me to learn other people’s languages… God be with you...,” he bade me farewell as the phone rang again.

He said all that speech without allowing me to cut in with more questions. (I wished to invite him to lunch with my family, but the magical spell in the emotions carried me away – and as I write this, my wife asks me ‘why didn’t you get his number for now’).

And somewhat, I felt it in me that I was blessed to come across a man who saw value in other peoples culture. The indigenous and rich culture elements of South Africa that often go ignored by those whose culture our total educational and business system is based on. Not that I’m a complaining. That’s just a known statement.

This odd man just humbled me and I went on to remember the many intricate but insightful passages in Plato’s book, The Republic, which advocates the understanding of one another, the need for regulations and social structures that compel us to leave together in harmony.

Can’t wait to lay my hands on that all-time great piece of philosophy (by the way, I dropped out of my philosophy class thrice and flunked it twice back at Rhodes University). Let’s see if I will finish this 500-pager without dropping it.

"Judge of a man by his questions, rather than by his answers." - Voltaire


qDot said...

Indeed, it is a humbling experience but i do not know; why that is. I am Zulu and even though as you said Zulu speaking whites are now a dime a dozen, I still experience a level of exhilaration.

Curiously though, whites do not seem to experience similar sentiments when they realise we speak English or Afrikaans. I think the reason for this is that we are expected to be able to speak those languages... and you know what, it makes me question myself.

Why do I get excited about someone speaking my language when they don't get excited that I speak theirs ?

It makes me wonder if those sentiments I experience are coming from a deeper desire for my language or culture to be validated ? What do you think ?

Izz said...

It was humbling because of its rarity. It was also humbling because at the back of my mind, I know that most whites wouldn't give a dime that I speak and write in English with perfected finesse. That to get to that point, I had to learnn it. Word for word. I started learning English at about 14 when we discovered TV at home.

What I also honestly think is that, those who can appreciate without discriminating, have the potential of being at a great advantage. Hence that man's other comment was that he gained advantage in learning shangaan.

But you are right, what is the average (that a black man speak English) is never exhilirating.

Izz said...

These are interesting observations, and ones that should not be necessarily racialised, but rather thought of from cultural perspectives.

The Pseudo-Independent said...

Voodoo to my ears? I am an African of Yoruba origins and know the feeling when a "race that popularly disregards indigenous languages" speaks your tongue. There is nothing else like it; nothing so good, certainly. It is a challenge and a triumph. However I must say this post has a morning freshness to it and I like it. Perhaps am just looking for a very good book.

I am guessing you love philosophy and political theory?

Anonymous said...

As an Afrikaans person of rather pale complexion I should say that I think most Afrikaans people - at least in the cities - really appreciate it when people can and want to speak their language. This is especially the case in a customer service situation - I always give a much bigger tip in a tipping situation if I am served in good Afrikaans by a non-mother tongue speaker. In fact, they often speak it much better than the Afrikaans teenage hooligans that work with them. Unfortunately it is the case that hardly anybody appreciates it when you or I speak English, mFowethu. I think that it is big problem in SA cities that we feel that we should speak English in the most elementary situations. Anyway, do not expect too much appreciation from an Afrikaans person about your English - we also feel we HAVE to speak it. Thanks for the nice story, anyhow!

Izz said...

Pseudo-Independent, I do read philosophy although I'm not big on politics or political theory except for the general news in the world.

I hadn't in fact thought of the language imperiliasm as far as Afrikaans also falling victim. But after you mentioned it, I've given it quick thought and realised that over time, I may have infact gathered that it is victim, for English predominates - mainly in customer service situations as you put it.

I think your tip-reduction-plan is a great way for yourself to keep reminder that people can do better if they wanted to. It's all a matter of small effort,mfoweto!

I hope although we may not know each others languages in South Africans, we can still proudly, and deeply so, appreciate each other with utmost respect.