It’s been about one and half year since I first came down to Bloemfontein, South Africa to further my studies at the University of the Free State. A lot of things have happened since then: Some good and some not so good. And although I have gotten used to life in this town, things were not always like that. I had serious challenges fitting in this town. People in Bloemfontein speak a different language from mine and communicating was a big problem.
I am Tsonga speaking and they are Sotho. And although I could see their lips moving and hear sounds coming out of their mouths I couldn’t quite understand what they were saying to me. It was as if they were speaking another language from another planet. I had never been around Sotho people before in my life. As a result, I had difficulties making friends. And they thought I was strange too because they couldn’t understand my language as well. And some of them go as far as saying that they didn’t even know that Tsonga is one of the official languages.
South Africa has eleven official languages … English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa, Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, Swati, Tsonga and Venda. But most of us hardly know how to speak languages other than our own. There a few contributing factors to this. One of the factors may be because we live in different provinces and we never really get a chance to mingle, even when we do travel to other provinces. But the one factor that stands out the most for me is the fact that some cultures think that they are more important or better than others and therefore they think that it’s not important for them to learn about any other cultures.
My language is one of the cultures that have been looked down on. Apparently they think that we have too dark a complexion to be South Africans. They also think that we are cowards, and that we are not smart enough. And the list goes on and on. Even here in Bloemfontein I’ve heard some people making such stupid comments about Tsonga people but I’ve never really understood why. So I just ignore their childishness.
But coming to Bloemfontein sure reminded me just how important is it for us to learn about each other’s cultures and to unite as South Africans. So I decided to start learning Sotho and even managed to make friends with some Sotho girls who are helping me with this process. Although I am not quite there yet I am now at least able to speak a little bit of Sotho. And now life in Bloemfontein doesn’t feel quite so difficult.
Thandi Mkhatshwa grew up in the the small village of Tintswalo, South Africa. In 2007, she graduated from the Amazwi School of Media Arts with a Certificate in Narrative Journalism and Fieldwork Studies.She is now studying Accounting at South Africa's University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. She enjoys writing about every day life and events. She blogs once a week on AFRicanmag.com. Bookmark her blog at