No One Is Born A Tribalist

No One Is Born A Tribalist by Ms Khensani Nyango


For a long time I have been struggling to decide on what my first article should be about. Mostly because as you can imagine South Africa is a challenged country and I had to decide which issue should get first preference. Bearing in mind that 78.2% of the class of 2013 are entering a new phase in their lives, the big elephant in the room one in three women will be raped in South Africa, E-tolls, crime and social challenges etc. Yet Khensani decided to focus on something else. It is not that it is more important; it’s just something I believe needs to be said.


A few days ago I received a message from a friend who asked me and I quote “Do you see yourself as just a Phalaborwa (my home town) person who is only for Ba-Phalaborwa or Tsonga people?”

For some reason I didn’t even notice the whole “hi tirhela kaya” notion of the message; I was taken aback by the Tsonga part of it. When will this change? We always say that the time for change is always and will always be NOW. Yet here we are in 2014; still talking about a bearer that we ALLOW to run or rather ruin our lives. If we are not permitting boarders to separate us; we are drawing invisible lines that endorse division by the languages we speak. 20 years into democracy and here we are. Don’t get any of this wrong; my friend meant well and we had a lengthy discussion about this afterwards.


What we don’t realize is just how much this “I am Pedi, Venda, Tsonga” thing; affects our everyday lives. It is obvious that if we see each other as coming from different tribes; then a certain tribe will then have to be superior to the rest. Meaning we all see ourselves as belonging to the so called “superior” tribe, looking down at the others and seeing them as inferior to us. The difficulties we see South Africa face today may be caused by just that; tribalism. Let me elaborate…Let’s take a homestead for instance… gone are those days that one will be forced to marry in his/her tribe; so they can “understand” each other better.


Today see multicultural marriages uniting couples from different cultures grow in popularity. If one believes that his/her tribe is superior; whether because they were taught that from the day they we born; since parents didn’t want to be undermined by “ama-kwere-kwere” or because society imparted that in them… what will happen to that marriage? Imagine a woman who is love yet; believes that her husband is beneath her. Think of a husband who feels disrespected by not only the “minion” gender but; one that belongs to an inferior tribe. The kind of emotional or even physical abuse that may take place in such a house hold; is one that cannot be described. What about the children; are they supposed to pick sides now?


We are blessed to be part of such a diverse Country. A Country blessed with nearly 52 million people, a wide variety of cultures, languages and religious beliefs. Imagine if we allowed ourselves to take advantage of this. Yes; there have been strides made and I personally believe democracy has elevated us to a level; others only dreamt of. Yet it’s not even about democracy; trust me I believe the past 20 years have been amazing; I just believe that we have been living with people from different cultural beliefs all our lives. Our neighborhoods, schools, work places, and every other place you can think of; exposes us to different cultures. Some we understand and some we don’t. I have come across people who just choose not to speak any other language than their mother tongue. Like walking into a store or an office seeking assistance and are looked at strangely for greeting in your mother tongue… that just kills me.


Language is also just one step. If we were to give ourselves just one day to ask a friend or a colleague about their culture; we would step into place wherein we understand who they are and even why they do things in a particular way. History also planted a seed of hatred for some cultures; yet how long are we going to allow our past determine where we are going? How long will we deprive ourselves of the beauty of who we are as South Africans? One of the most wisest men to ever walk the face of the earth; Dr. Nelson Mandela once said; “if you talk to a man in a language he understands; it goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

We all need each other; if not for ourselves; then for our Country. So I have decided on a mechanism that will assist ME deal with this more comfortably… I am going to answer people in a language they use with me, start a conversation in my mother tongue and if I don’t get the same courtesy; u ta vulavula xa ka nwina, ni vulavula xa ka hina. That way we both learn!

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