We present to you TLATLANA. It is found at www.tlatlana.com. It is a website developed to address one major problem: the absence of critical reviews of creative texts such as novels, plays and poetry in the Setswana language. The entire website is written completely in and about the Setswana language, literature and culture. The material is written primarily to support Setswana education in general and in the curriculum.
The position of Setswana in Southern Africa is an important one. Setswana speakers are spread across the four countries of Botswana, South Africa (including, until 1994, Bophuthatswana), Namibia and Zimbabwe. Setswana has been one of the fastest growing southern African languages. It currently has an estimated 6 million speakers spread across the four countries. In South Africa there are multiethnic groups that speak the Setswana language. Amongst these are the Barolong, Bafokeng, Bahurutshe, Batlhaping (a splinter group of the Barolong) and Bakgatla. In Botswana, Setswana is spoken by a largely bilingual majority; bilingual between Setswana and English. English competence is as a result of Botswana’s language policy in which Setswana is a national language and English is an official language. Other speakers of Setswana use it as a second or third language; precisely as Botswana’s lingua franca. There are, therefore, native speakers of Kalanga, Sekgalagadi, Seherero, and Seyeyi who are linguistically competent in Setswana and English. This creation of TLATLANA will therefore aid Setswana education of persons for whom Setswana is not a mothertongue.
Setswana is Botswana’s national language, but not its official tongue. This means that in most official domains, such as in the courts of law and official parliamentary speeches, English is used, while Setswana is used more as a lingua franca in the media and in public meetings. It however has an official status in South Africa. The difference in status of Setswana can be explained by the difference in constitutional dispensation with regard to languages (cf. Finlayson and Madibana 2002; Andersson and Janson 1997). A country’s constitution determines to a large extent the language policies and functionality of languages (Janson and Tsonope 1991 and Webb 1995). Where a language use policy does not value language empowerment through development, and functionalization in critical communication domains, issues of language enrichment and development are not given prominence. In South Africa, the government enshrined these languages in the new Constitution after 1994, by granting them “equal use” in all sectors of the society although education in South Africa is still provided primarily through English and Afrikaans.
This therefore means that although Setswana in South Africa has constitutional support it is still seen as lacking educational value. This means that Setswana is functionally largely oral and exists in few very limited texts such as those of creative writing. However, such creative pieces haven’t been properly reviewed and reviews made easily accessible to students and teachers of Setswana. Alidou (2004) has argued that in post-colonial Africa, in avoidance of ethnic wars, African governments ironically retained colonial languages which were viewed as neutral means of communication. She also argues that governments felt that in the interest of national unity, it was crucial that a country rallied behind a single flag, a single constitution and a single local language hence Setswana as a local language was at independence adopted and sponsored by the Botswana government as a national unifying language (cf. Bagwasi 2003).
The largest number of Setswana speakers live in South Africa (over 3 million, about 8 per cent of the population of South Africa) where Setswana is one of the eleven official languages. Zimbabwe has an estimated 29,000 Setswana speakers and Namibia has approximately 6,000 (Andersson and Janson 1997). In Botswana, Setswana is spoken by over a million speakers (70-90 per cent of the population) as a mother tongue (Andersson and Janson 1997: 21; Selolwane, 2004; cf. Chebanne and Nyati-Ramahobo 2003; Ramsay 2006; cf. Chebanne 2008).
Literature on the language situation in Botswana usually makes a distinction between English as an official language and Setswana as a national language in Botswana (Arthur 1997: 225). Setswana is seen generally as a language of national unity, and English as a language in which government policies are articulated (Arua and Magocha 2002). The pursuit to promote the Setswana language as a national language has been clearly articulated in the The Report of the National Commission on Education which argues that: “The pursuit of unity calls for every Motswana to appreciate his or her rights and responsibilities as a citizen of Botswana, to become fluent in the national language, and to take pride in the national cultural heritage” (Republic of Botswana 1977:30). This unity through one language was assumed to facilitate political and cultural closeness of different ethnic and language communities. The functional distinctions between English and Setswana in many instances are blurred with more of Setswana being used increasingly in official contexts to explain government policies which are in English. Similarly English continues to encroach into areas where traditionally Setswana has been used, such as funerals and weddings. One recent development of the last five years is the establishment of the Setswana Comission by the African Union. ACALAN (The African Academy of Languages) has established a Setswana Commission to look into the development and promotion of language in southern Africa. One of the commission’s principal aims is to harmonise Setswana orthography in all Tswana-speaking countries and it is hoped that the Setswana Commission will oversee harmonised Setswana orthography revision for Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The creation of TLATLANA is therefore to support the broader aims of the African Union in the development of African languages. Teachers, educators and Setswana lovers are invited to submit material to TLATLANA at firstname.lastname@example.org.