A Generation Lost in Time and Translation.

Africa Map with books“time’s quill is quick to spill its ink onto a new page” _ Dan Bull 

The biggest problem lies in the fact that there is separation between African literature and English literature in universities. and how the culture of reading is presented to us with western modes of thought from a very early stage.

I studied journalism for a year at Midrand Graduate institute before transferring to Wits. at MGI English was a compulsory module whereas at wits, it was my choice to have it as one of my modules. the difference between the two institutions, in the English department, is that MGI is more inclusive with ‘African’ literature in its English course. Wits However, separates the two. The English course is then filled with ancient texts that are more historically English than literary.

What is presented to us as English literature is outdated. If the problem lies in that African texts have to be translated into English, then it would make sense to study Dante Alighieri  in an Italian literature course. in the case of Shakespeare or Chaucer, English facilitators first have to translate the English into English before a literary analysis of the text can be done. On the other hand contemporary African literature is produced in English yet we have to study two different courses in order to get the best of both.

What is the difference? Maybe I have missed the point. However, I believe that Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dante and the likes fall into the category of “the history of English”. there is a wealth of contemporary material that can replace writers of the old, especially in a course where one is required to critically engage with the source material. 

As an English literature student I often ask myself about the relevance of Shakespeare to A South African child. Is there any problem with presenting: Zakes Mda, Miriama Ba, John Kani and Buchi Emecheta etc, as English literature. If language is progressive and reflects the state of society then the texts that are taught should also reflect that progression. In as much as we are required to read widely, it seems best to first familiarize ourselves with our own environment before seeing what is on the outside, to avoid being strangers to our own homes. So every institution from pre-primary to tertiary, should on a literary base, present material that is relevant to our surroundings as the most important

If anything, language and literature, since apartheid ended, fell through the cracks of the education system. The set books that children are exposed to at a primary school level are too distant from our society. our stories are not being told. Unless they are found in newspapers, being told at home or on the Public Broadcasters channels. The literature that we are supposed to be exposed to, is a mirror of our current society now, as it was for William back then.

So from an early age, children should be socialized to be compatible in their own society(South Africa) and the world at large. however, we can not leave it in the hands of the government, it all begins at home, where Parents or a parent figure creates the curiosity in the mind of the child where transformation begins.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t read widely. I’m only pointing out the outlandish distinction between English and African literature that Is more of a barrier than a progressive tool in out talks of “transformation”.

When we learn how to teach, we can teach others how to learn and understand.




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