“Xitsonga, as a language, is naturally defiant.”
A language is naturally defiant to a deluge of social discords institutionalized or the ones that were brewed along the artificial national borders.
In South Eastern Zimbabwe, Xitsonga was very resilient and in altercation with the post-independence policies of the Republic of Zimbabwe, which sought to have the language completely ostracized one way or the other, or eliminated from the map. Xitsonga was seen as a “foreign” language by the post-independence Zimbabwe, regardless of the fact that Tsonga speakers are on their ancestral land. As a result, the speakers of our language unconsciously succumbed and ended up being relegated for many years.
Xitsonga that is mostly spoken in Zimbabwe is Xihlengwe (Western variant) and Xitshwa (Eastern variant), but with a lot of Shona adulteration. In Zimbabwe we are accustomed to names like Tendai Mavunda, Tichaona Chauke, Kudakwashe Hlungwani, Netsai Macheke and many more, not only because of Shona influence, but also with a willingness to commit ethnical suicide.
When I landed in Pretoria in the late 1990s, just after the dismantling of Bantustans, I met people who spoke Tswanalised Xitsonga in the then Bophuthatswana areas, your Hammanskraal, Mabopane, Winterveld, Klipgat, Hebron, Ga-Rankuwa, Letlhabile and other areas. Phelandaba’s Sealborne side, Mamelodi’s Flaka and Soshanguve’s Block H offered no option as it still appeared urban to Tswanalised Xitsonga. It is in the said respective hoods that I met names like Tshepo Baloyi, Malebo Manganye, Kedibone Maswanganye etc, which resonated with my experience of the Shonalisation of Xitsonga. Sentences were punctuated by “anker” and “waetse”, Papatsongo was “Rangwani”, and vana va papantsongo became “cousins”, and Hahani was now “Hani”. Bear in mind, this speech format back home during Christmas was the in-thing, a hit, a trend – and even now, it is still a fashionable trend in Ka Sengwe and Ka Tshovani.
In that world, I became a beneficiary of an assumption that I was from Giyani since I came with a dialect of my own, which was less or not Tswanalised at all. I had also managed to uproot a lot of Shona words from my vocabulary, and replaced some words from Xitshwa variant. I would replace “ga” with “dya”, “bwa” with “bya” and many others. Even though in normal conditions, I would not have needed to switch dialects, I realised that there is an evident animosity, especially in the South African Tsonga setup, when one speaks a different dialect. I had to sound Giyanish lest I had to attract zonal informants, and pay a monthly premium to the corrupt cops in their scout for Amashangaan. The irony of scouting Amashangaan in Soshanguve always left me psychologically affected and mentally boggled. The world we live in is always full of controversy and disputation. Giyani was just a myth since I had either lived or been there. I read a lot about the Gazankulu Bantustan so that I could sustain a sensible interesting dialogue about the politics, traditional authorities and even schools. Being a Mavunda, I read about Dzumeri, Xihoko, Ngove, Bungeni, Mthimkhulu, Xiviti/Manyangana and Maxobye. And I got schooled about this big clan name of ours.
When I finally set foot in Giyani, I was ushered home by a bronze statue of the Shangaan King Nghunghunyane through King Sundhuza Mhinga Bridge. The irony is just too much for the delicate and the uninitiated.
Godfrey Xirhilele Mabunda
Image source: getaway.co.za