Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs. I again realized that we were not different people with separate languages; we were one people, with different tongues.
- Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
Those were the lines that echoed through my head as I finally got the chance to visit South-Africa as part of Goethe-Institut’s mobility grant program, ‘Moving Africa’ from September 7 through 12, 2015. Alas, a chance to grasp the beautiful language of the Rainbow nation with its rich history and peculiar diversity. A language that goes beyond its spoken dialects; rather, one which I experienced in its arts, people, creativity, among other forms of my broader definition of language vis-à-vis culture.
My 6-day experience in Johannesburg is captured in the highlights below.
The sweet melody of isiZulu, Xhosa, Afrikaan, Venda, Sotho among other native South-African languages as I came to know played constantly throughout my stay. It’s hard to explain my fascination with native African languages. Even though I hardly have time to learn them, they leave a sweet melodious tone in my eardrums. Besides, these native languages go beyond the spoken word. More, the attitude of its speakers in gestures, facial expressions, exclamations, slangs, accentuations… all encompass the makeup of native languages as captured in this piece — What makes a native language tick?
In African cultures, a close correlation lies between languages and names. I’m used to being called Bayo, a shortened form of my first name, Adebayo, but I wouldn’t miss a chance to hear a native call out his or her full name especially when that person is of a different culture from mine. Thus, I wanted to hear the full names of every South-African I came across. Weird given most are used to having their full names pronounced only by angry moms, grans, uncles and the older ilk, something I can relate to :-). It seemed to me like native names conjure up stories of powerful warriors in whose clan they belong. Consequently, I wanted to hear about the meanings and origins of those names.
(2) Meeting with Meruschka Govender
I met with African travel and cultural activist Meruschka better known for her blog, Mzansigirl. I’d been introduced to her by the organizers ofFak’ugesi on Twitter and was impressed by the length and breadth to which she covers African tourism through her live experiences. Even before touching down in Jo’burg, I already knew about various sight attractions, thanks to her blog. We met up for a drink in Braamfontein after which she led me on a brief tour. As with any native, Meruschka could tell which bar just opened, or what building was recently erected or for what purpose it’s meant reinforcing her passionate connection with Jo’burg. We met up again at the AMaze festival opening but sadly, I couldn’t get her to do her famed dance. On the other side, it’s a jump we hope to reenact in an anime project we discussed.
(3) Lebo’s Soweto tour
The story of Soweto is a familiar one given its role in South-Africa’s history. It was pleasing to add real images to the much that I’d read about specifically in Madiba’s Long walk to freedom. On another hand, what I really looked out for during my tour with Lebo’s Soweto backpackers were cultural peculiarities and I got a good taste somewhere along the famous Vilakazi street — the one street in the world which houses two Nobel prize winners; arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. There, as we sat for refreshments, Tswana dancers thrilled us with native dances as seen in this video captured by Paul Sika below. Not to be outdone, I had a picture with them and shot a video interview where one of the dancers gives more context to the dance they had just performed.
My tour of Hillbrow with Lupi of Dlala Nje cannot be effectively captured in this piece. At best, it makes for a mention here that that experience is one that I connected with on a personal level which I’ll share in a subsequent piece. It demystified not just the mystery about hitherto vilified communities but also reinforced the superiority of physical reality over mainstream media reality. At the end of my tour, the 54-floor Ponte City building held more than just an ordinary meaning. Rather, a history and story to it that DlalaNje brings the best out of. Kudos DlalaNje!
With the AMaze festival, gaming finally took the forefront. This year, the Amaze festival featured alongside Fak’ugesi, an annual African Digital Innovation Festival. Meeting with gamers across the South-African landscape including countries like Congo, Togo, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Kenya was fun. It was great to connect with them, learn and establish relationships for future collaboration.
It was a pleasure to talk through the role of gaming in promoting and preserving our indigenous cultures. As a tool, its role is evident in providing a much required appeal to people globally and we specifically shared how our #selfiesweekend challenge was invoked by the Yoruba101 app. More reading here: Selfies with African deities.
I also gave an interview to the media crew of EDGE Science & Tech Show here
(6) WITS Museum
You couldn’t be in Bram and miss the WITS museum. Nah! Not with its transparent glasses which gave a glimpse of South-Africa’s culture. And so, I went in to get a full glare of its offering. If I ever thought bead making was unique to Nigeria given its evident feature in various traditional ceremonies, South-African cultures added a new dimension to my understanding. Bead making is an integral part of cultures like Zulu when it comes to fashion. Everything from loins to blankets, caps, scarves has elements of creative use of beads to it.
In the end, I left South-Africa with a great taste of the culture and people. As a team, Genii Games is already excited at the prospects before us given South-Africa’s rich culture. Projects as Regina Kgatle’s #67GamesforMandela have us excited as we contribute our skills to tailored contents using South-Africa’s rich diversity to drive learning.
Rest assured, I’ll be back!
P.S. A special thanks to the Goeth-Institut WITS universty, Hanli Geyser, Ben Myers, Thorsten Storno, Co-Creation Hub Nigeria and many more who made for an awesome experience.