Who are we when the words of our ancestors no longer exit our mouths? When we speak the words learnt by our ancestors by force?

How then do we make sense of this world where the words (our weaponry) are the ones of those whose sole purpose was to disrupt and destroy our existence? Who said our ancestors sounded like turkeys clucking?

Language is more than just the collection of signs and words we use. It informs our existence, guides us in a foreign space, helps us understand the world we inhabit, helps us heal when hurt. Language is identity, language is heritage, and language is culture.

So what happens to you as a person, to your group, when those sacred words are taken away? And not just taken away, but by force and sheer brutality.

And this is the case for the millions of people in South Africa who have been categorised as coloured. An identity created by the British, used extensively post 1838 – the emancipation of slavery at the Cape – to put Khoe people and slaves in one politically convenient box. 

Erasing our ancestral memories, identities, our history but the worst is erasure of our languages. Because when you erase the first languages of this land, it’s easy to erase the existence of the first people of this land and to erase the atrocities committed against those groups.

How many Capetonians and South Africans know that Cape town is called Hui!Gaeb, which in the Khoekhoe language means “where the cloud gathers”, or that Table mountain is called “Huri Oaxa”, or where the sea rises?

They say that when a language dies, its like a museum that burns to the ground.

It’s important to recognise and advance African languages, but what about the first languages of this land?

How do millions of people stop speaking their languages? Easy. You rob them of their land, their cattle, their economic power, and you force them to work as slaves on their own land, forcing them to speak your language.

You also force them to abandon their own beliefs where the only way you could teach them about your God is by having them understand your language.

This also explains why the Nama Khoekhoe, a group with ancestral connections to South Africa, managed to retain the Nama dialect of the Khoekhoe language.