Now more than ever, Setswana teachers find themselves time and again having to defend the relevance of the language in the school curriculum.
“Teacher, why are we studying Setswana; we are taught everything in English and everything we do to job interviews is done in English,” one teacher recounts fielding this question from her students.
“Why do we have to continue learning Setswana if we use it for 40 to 80minutes during Setswana lesson in the eight hours we are in school,” she recounts the encounter.
For the teacher, who was commenting on condition of anonymity, these are the questions she and other Setswana teachers deal with on a daily basis during lessons.
A feel of anxiety over the erosion, potential destruction and death over our native language brings shivers to those holding on to cultural heritage.
But, does the language has a place in the curriculum or even the modern society?
According to Professor Thapelo Otlogetswe of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Botswana, ‘Setswana must be understood as an integral part of who we are.’
“It is an essential element of our history and culture for it defines who we are – our pride in the world. If we destroy it, our identity as a people will be lost,” he explained.
Professor Otlogetswe says whereas many see the language as just a mere tool of communication, it holds more than that.
“Setswana, like other African languages is unique in the world – there are no more than 8 million speakers in the whole world,” he says.
“In the language and culture are medicinal knowledge, knowledge about cooperation and peace, knowledge about stars e.t.c that Setswana can contribute to the world. Language is more than communication – it expresses culture,” Professor Otlogetswe explains.
He says for this reason, there is a national move, not to kill native languages but to increase their sphere of function by introducing more local languages into the curriculum.
Not surprising, Professor Otlogetswe says as a way of preserving our native language, Setswana has been selected by the African Union together with Nyanja also known as Chichewa, for development and promotion in Southern Africa.
This he says is part of a broader project of reversing and undoing linguistic and cultural loss as a consequence of colonialism.
“This means that for you to do medicine or for you to be admitted to university you must have passed Setswana,” he explains.
“Additionally, Setswana systems of law must be taught to Lawyers; Setswana systems of Business must be taught to Business students; Setswana systems of medicine must be taught to medical students the list goes on. This will increase the value of the language and culture,” he says.
As a way to give Setswana some kind of relevance, Professor Otlogetswe says Setswana must be used in commercial settings.
He says labelling of all food stuffs must be in English and in Setswana and Setswana must be used in commercial settings – in business meetings, in court, and even in parliament.
Professor Otlogetswe says by so doing, the new generation will slowly learn to take pride in their mother tongue.