WHEN Diphete Bopape realised how his mother who loved reading struggled to grapple with English newspapers he decided to start his own paper to ensure she and many others could enjoy reading in their own mother tongue.

The former school teacher and author of nine literary Sepedi books, is the founder and editor of the Sepedi language newspaper Seipone, mirror, based in Polokwane, Limpopo. During the last Census in 2011 the Statistics SA estimated the number of Sepedi speakers in the country at 4,6million – the fifth most spoke language in the country.

But because government and big corporates use English as the language of business this means indigenous language publications like Seipone lose out on much of the advertising revenue required to keep any newspaper afloat.

But despite often agonising about raising enough funds for printing, distribution and paying staff and contributors, Bopape isn’t about to give up because his dream is to ensure Sepedi doesn’t die. He also uses the newspaper as a platform to offer aspirant journalists an opportunity to hone their skills and garner experience. But its influence stretches beyond journalism.

“Teachers from various schools have indicated that they rely on Seipone to teach aspects such as spelling, comprehension, loud reading etcetera. As the only newspaper in this language, Seipone is used for oral examination and for drawing questions on various language aspects.

“In the absence of alternative sources, it is particularly the use of the newspaper as a teaching and learning tool that has made me to push the paper despite challenges,” Bopape says.   

The United Nations, Education and Scientific Council [Unesco] which observes 21 February as International Mother Language Day, out of more than 6,700 languages spoken in the world today, 40% face extinction.

The alarming rate at which the indigenous languages are diminishing has resulted in Unesco declaring the decade 2022/2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

Unesco says this is aimed at drawing attention to the loss of indigenous languages and what can be urgently done to promote and preserve these languages. 

“While apartheid was such a cruel and vicious system while I was growing up, the system did have at least two publications in my language, Northern Sotho / Sepedi, namely ‘Tšwelopele’ (Progress) and Motswalle wa Bana or WAMBA (Children’s Friend). While these publications were mainly used for propaganda purposes, besides the Bible, they offered something in my language that I could read with a measure of understanding and confidence,” says Bopape. But these publications ceased to exist with the demise of apartheid in the early 1990s and they have not been replaced by anything.

“What this means is that, besides school texts that are meant for use in schools, the only publication that is available to speakers of my language is the Bible, and the Bible only. The implication of this is that once they quit school, my people have nothing that they can read with comprehension for the rest of their lives,” he says.

“So people who do have a measure of reading and writing school in their mother tongue are condemned to spending the rest of their lives without anything they can read with comprehension and a measure of enjoyment.”

His own mother fell in this category and this spurred him on to do something – hence Seipone, meaning mirror, was born. But the going is tough, very tough.

“In the absence of all these [advertising revenue/advertorials etc], an indigenous language newspaper such as Seipone soon finds that it only has expenditure but no income. In the absence of adverts and advertorials, the newspaper simply does not have resources to sustain itself,” Bopape says.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said at an event to celebrate International Mother Language Day at the University of Johannesburg’s School of Languages and the Transformation Unit that every effort must be made to ensure that mother has a future.

“Language is a reflection of our consciousness, therefore there is nothing inferior about indigenous languages. Let’s promote who we are,” said Mogoeng.

Bopape has been doing it for years and plans to continue doing so. – Mukurukuru Media


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