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Pretoria and South Africa’s multi-lingua status

bai Edwin Eriata Oribhabor

I adjusted sharply to the chilly winter weather of Pretoria, South Africa where I attended an “International Conference on Arts, Society and Sustainable Development” from 27-29 June, 2011 at the Faculty of Arts, Tshwane University of Science and Technology, Pretoria-West campus. One of the conveners of the conference was a Nigerian in the person of Professor Patrick Ebewo. Not less than 130 persons presented papers covering different areas of the arts. Of this number, a minimum of 20 Nigerians also made presentations on various relevant topics. My paper was titled, “The Role of Naija (Nigerian Pidgin) in Achieving Nigeria’s Language Policy and Integration of its People.” Throughout my one-week stay in Arcadia, Pretoria central, my mind kept going back and forth to Abuja, my place of residence, Warri my place of birth and Nigeria in general. You will find out why in the following.

Pretoria is a beautiful city with colonnade of buildings competing for the skies. Very long roads crisscrossed one another in beautiful decency supported by functional traffic lights that enabled pedestrians to walk across zebra-crossings with gait and dignity. Free flowing traffic was never interrupted by the kind of bumps we see on the roads of Abuja supposedly constructed to check accidents that usually occur at road junctions. I neither experience power surge nor power cut. Simply put, lait no shek sam sam . It wasn’t a problem figuring out where the whole magic rests; “ dia oun NEPA de wok .” In a situation where electricity works tu-fo-sevun , shops could operate far into the night in spite of the chilly weather. This was exactly what I saw here.

It was normal for anyone outside his country to indulge in individual assessment of the infrastructural development of any place visited in comparison with one’s home country. I was a victim of this. No way would one compare Abuja a supposedly 21st century city of the federal capital city of Nigeria with Pretoria. Pretoria is well ahead of Abuja in all ramifications. I saw how car parks were built right within different premises. The Tshwane university conference venue was in the bowel of nature conducive to learning. I remembered Warri where I had spent three weeks of my annual vacation before proceeding to SA. As a flashback, I saw a town that was progressively retrogressing. Unfortunately, my siblings wouldn’t accept my position. They usually would say, things are changing for the better -“ tins don de chenj .” A one-time “oil city” of Nigeria, is no more addressed in such “borrowed” robe. Grass competed for space with flowers and even served as “flowers” in places where flowers were meant to be. Warri is now a town that hardly boasts of a serene area worthy to be proud of.

As part of the organizers plan to serve participants a perfect dish of business and pleasure, a tour of the famous Lesedi Cultural Village amongst others was arranged for us. On our way to this place, more than 30km from central Pretoria, I remembered the arts and craft village in Abuja. But when we got there, we met a wonderful cultural setting housing an international conference centre right in Lanseria, portion 198 of farm no 493. We were welcomed by professional Zulu dancers cum drummers whose dexterity at what they do was truly out of this world. A particular group took us through spectacular lessons in drumming.

During this session, had a drum each to ourselves as we practiced drumming with them. At the end of this session, we drummed our way into an exclusive rendition that was exclusively ours. When the Zulu dancers stepped on stage to entertain, the chilly weather immediately gave way to superior warmth that emanated from their dance steps supported by fire places set up at designated points in and around the culture-compliant amphi-theatre. The most interesting aspect of this display was that, at intervals, we were told the history, meaning or reason for the different dances as well as the costumes worn by the dancers. At the end of the day, we had a historical excursion into the past of South Africans as well as the cultural relationship with their apartheid past.

The Lesedi cultural village & conference centre was a perfect showcase of culture in all ramifications. Of course no one will drum and dance in Lesedi, walk into the chilly weather and return to Pretoria jos laik dat . The next stop was the venue for “ item sevun ” where traditional South African cuisine was on display. At this stage, we were relieved of “ di oyibo oyibo ” food we were treated to since the programme commenced early on the first day of the conference. We ate crocodile meal an plenti plenti tins . May be out of joke, we were told by a lady who introduced the menu that a taste of crocodile was recommended because it was better for one to eat it before it eats one. It was a tasty experience indeed. Imagine an assemblage of different nationals dancing around a fire place right inside a beautifully lit bush farm spiced with the presence of arts and craft materials for sale, a world class bar and restaurant with dancers whose rhythmic dance steps that retains fond memories one would never want to forget.

My trip to the cultural village at Lesedi, Pretoria was an eye opener. I discovered that a cultural village goes beyond a market place where arts & craft materials are sold and may be, play host to annual events. It is a place that should be well kept all year round in readiness for tourists and everyone interested in the works of artists irrespective of their calling. Importantly, it should be seen as a cultural window into the arts & cultural endowments of a people. Thus, a one-stop promotional tool for all that a people have to offer. Therefore, its management must be handled with all seriousness by the relevant department of government in partnership with Arts and culture practitioners cum investors in this regard. The conference also afforded participants the opportunity of a visit to Orlando Stadium and Nelson Mandela house and museum in Soweto. Participants were caught in a heart rending milieu of reconciling the past of the popular killings in Soweto and what they saw on ground. Touching was the word.

An opportunity like this seldom comes. Whenever it does, one is advised to grab it with both hands which I did in company of my wife. It was a wonderful time out at the Union Buildings, the equivalent of our Aso Rock in Abuja. Humm! Dis ples na wa! Once you have the privilege of visiting SA in the future, endeavour to visit the Union Buildings that rest atop a hill that makes it possible to sight them from different places in Pretoria. An architectural masterpiece any time any day, these buildings have at its foot, layers of well-manicured carpet-grassed gardens of trees neatly hedged by wonderful bricks of old. As one climbs these brick stairs up the hill, each layer offers exciting art-works you wouldn’t pass by without having a snapshot. A roll of honour in memory of their heroes past was cast for all to see. Once you get to the top, you will find the imposing buildings. As you take this peaceful walk and sight-seeing, you will never encounter a policeman or soldier holding guns. We were made to understand that, the president, Jacob Zuma’s residence was just around the corner.

South Africa was a perfect example of a multi-lingual composition where eleven of its official languages were made official. The capacity of the average citizen of SA to switch from one language to another is amazing. The average South African is a multi-linguist. Interestingly, post-apartheid South Africa embraced English language which is a popular mode of communication aside all the official languages. As one coming from a country where three local languages; Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba are officially recognized alongside the English language, the nation’s official lingua franca, I kept wondering why Naija (Nigerian pidgin) spoken all over the country is yet to be officially recognized. The basis of my paper at the conference was in line with this position. It is hoped that one day, Nigeria’s leaders will consider giving Naija (Nigerian pidgin) its rightful place in Nigeria as an officially recognized local language. Importantly, we should genuinely transform in all facets of life in such a way that we can attract positive attention in international fora. Our school shouldn’t be talking of only how to “bring back the book” but how and where to keep them in such a way that they could be assessed in conducive e-platforms built in all institutions of learning across Nigeria.

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