Today is Youth Day in South Africa.
Inspired by the class of ’76, Youth Day remembers the day when young African students in Soweto were punished for standing up and protesting against the iniquities of the Apartheid government, specifically a 1974 government decree that forced black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50-50 mix as the languages of instruction.
In memory of the lives that were lost on that day, our Londolozi elders – many of whom you will recognise below – have selected eight ancient Shangaan proverbs that they would like to share with young people all around the world.
As village elder, Lina Lamula, so eloquently puts it, “there is nothing as important as the ancient wisdom of a language” and today we celebrate not only our young people, but also the freedom to express ourselves in 11 official South African languages.
1. “Huma mhiri kunghena mamba.” (Elmon Sithole – Tracker)
English translation: “Don’t replace a puff adder with a black mamba.”
2. “Matimba ya ngwenya imati.” (Gogo Mo)
English translation: “Crocodiles are at their strongest when they’re in the water.”
3. “Loko uhleketa mhelembe khandziya murhi.” (Elmon Sithole – Chef)
English translation: “Remember – a rhino can’t jump on a tree.”
4. “Kusola hosi, sola usukile.” (Glory Manzini – Housekeeping)
English translation: “If you are complaining about the chief, then move to another land.”
5. “Kuwa rale thyakeni udyisiwa hi n’wana.” (Lina Lamula – Village Manager)
English translation: “Be careful of your children feeding you dirty fruit.”
6. “Hambi wo famba enkoveni, lundza rita vonaka.” (Colbert Mdluli – Varty Camp Butler)
English translation: “Even if you are doing something under the surface of the river’s water, your secret will eventually come out.”
7. “Ximita ntsengele xi tshemba nkolo.” (Sophie and Ilyna Khosa – Scullery)
English translation: “Only swallow the Ntsengele fruit if you are confident that you can swallow the pip as well.”
8. “N’wana wa nyoka inyoka.” (Norah Ubisi – Housekeeping)
English translation: “The baby of a snake is still a snake.”
If you could share just one of these proverbs with your children or your grandchildren this Youth Day, which one would it be? Or is there an ancient proverb from another language that you would like to share? Leave your thoughts (and proverbs) in the comments section below.