In my job as a language practitioner and linguist I have been fortunate to meet some committed and gifted individuals. Many of these are persons in other disciplines such as History, Computer Science or Law. In some cases some of these are actually students who work with me in some of my projects. Many of the students who participate in my projects are keen but they lack the focus, commitment, discipline and passion to stay with a project for long. They usually start with great enthusiasm that usually fizzles away after a week or a few days. This is in part because many of the projects that I embark on, though important, attract no salary. They are volunteer-driven. I believe there is much that can be achieved with minimum sponsorship. However, in this harsh economic climate, many find volunteerism quite a challenge.
I was rather pleasantly surprised when earlier this year I received an intern from Limkokwing University who wanted to work for three months on one of my language projects. Her name was Warona Makhafu. Two projects were running at the time. First, it was the development of the Setswana dictionary project, whose publication will coincide with Botswana’s 50th independence celebrations in 2016. The second project was the Tlatlana project that we had just launched at www.tlatlana.com. The Tlatlana project is a groundbreaking project that attempts to make Setswana book analyses available to Setswana language and literature users. The site also comprises educational material on Setswana grammar and culture. While English has Sparknotes and other sites, Setswana has nothing. Warona was a Creative Writing student. She therefore chose the Tlatlana project since it was closer to her training compared to a project in lexicography. It made sense. Her job was straightforward. She had to read as many novels, plays and poems as possible and deliver to me critical analyses of such pieces of work. I would then assess and polish them before returning them for correction and improvement. Makhafu, though trained in creative writing, she was trained in Creative Writing in English and not in Setswana. This posed a great challenge conceptually. There was before her a terminology hurdle to dispose of. She knew of characters, mood, theme, conflict, persona, a playwright, novel, novella, short story, stanza, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and many such terms that are a student of literature’s building blocks of critical discourse. What were these terms in Setswana? She had no clue. How was she to provide critical analyses of Setswana texts when she lacked the basic terminology to deal with the subject? She attempted a solution. She suggested that she would write her criticism in English and that I would translate it into Setswana for publication in Tlatlana. Her suggestion was rejected outright! She was thrown into the deep end. She had to deal with Setswana texts, something that she was unfamiliar with, in the Setswana language, which she lacked the requisite analysis terminology of.
Warona agreed. She wasn’t fazed. Instead she demonstrated great determination, focus and passion in her work. Her challenges were enormous. Like many who unfamiliar with writing in Setswana there were numerous spelling challenges. Many Setswana writers struggle with basic word divisions. And this challenge confronted Warona. Is it gore or go re; e sele or esele; e rile or erile; sale or sa le. There were also challenges with words such as kwa and not ko; logong and not legong. I was impressed by Warona’s love for reading – a rare quality amongst many of our students whose greatest read is brief text messages and Facebook messages. She read voraciously and with insatiable delight. To have a student with a passion for reading extensively is rare and greatly gratifying for one working with text. It is even rarer to meet one who delights in reading Setswana since many Batswana are semi-literate in the Setswana language. This is in part because many never read or write Setswana beyond their senior secondary school level. There is also a second problem. The Setswana language isn’t associated with educatedness and career progress. This makes it unattractive for many learners, schools and teachers.
I was however delighted that Warona took her work seriously and professionally. Within a short time she had delivered her first short story analysis and was keen on working on a different piece. From there Warona produced impressive analyses of all the literature texts that are done at junior secondary school. All these analyses have been published at www.tlatlana.com and are supporting Setswana classes across the country and beyond the Botswana borders. What impressed me most is that Warona came to me industry-ready and needed minimum training. Additionally, her skills are transferrable from English training to Setswana. This is important since the publishing industry in Africa is largely multilingual. Therefore, anyone who can apply skills learnt in one language to a different language scenario is destined to go rather far in their career. This was my view of Warona Makhafu. Her training at Limkokwing has prepared her for a highly competitive and demanding career in publishing or the media. Her individual personal traits that include amongst others calmness, focus, passion, commitment will ensure that she goes far in her career. Students with her unique qualities are rare. I was fortunate to meet her and she will go down in history as one of the individuals who has contributed meaningfully to studies in Setswana. The Tlatlana project has attracted much interest across the border in South Africa amongst Setswana educationalist at the North West University and amongst the Bafokeng at Lebone school. The collaboration between Setswana educationalist across different nations will go a long way to building a body of Setswana training information which will advance Setswana education.