Africa Is Who We Are

Article written by Likeleli M. Monyamane.

In school, they did not teach me to have pride in my continent. They never taught me who I was or what being African meant.

Growing up I wanted to speak English with a perfect American twang like the actresses on the Bold and the Beautiful; my grandmother’s favourite soap opera. Until this day, I have not finished reading a single book  in my mother’s tongue – Sesotho. In high school, English was my first language and Sesotho my third language – after Afrikaans.

I am Likeleli Tebello Mphutlane. I hail from the beautiful mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho, and I am a descendant of King Moshoeshoe, the founder of the Basotho nation. I live and work in South Africa as a trainee accountant. Most importantly, I am a woman learning to love and appreciate my continent, Africa, and its different people – who make it the most beautiful continent on the planet.

I was not taught to have pride in myself, my heritage or where I was from. Judging from what I have read and heard, not only on ElleAfrique but also in countless books, blogs, magazines, television shows, radio programmes and songs, I am not alone!!!

I wasn’t taught to have pride in my continent because for a long time the rest of the world considered itself the best teacher, the best writer of the African history as well as the best storyteller of the African struggle. For a long time the rest of the world considered itself the best model of life which the African continent and its people should mimic.

It is an honour and a privilege for me to be a part of this revolutionary blog, which is a BIG DEAL in this day and age where Africans are trying to establish themselves as a people who can govern their own countries, grow their own economies and provide solutions for their own poverty; amongst other problems. A time when African authors want to write about their own Africa from their own African perspective, when African songwriters want to compose and sing their songs and African women want to speak for themselves, in their own words.

I may not have been taught to have pride in my continent, but like a baby teaching itself how to walk, I have tripped and fallen trying to teach myself how to love my continent, defining and re-defining who I am as an African.

I am learning, to love this continent.I am learning to love its people. In the process I have learned to love myself, because Africa is not only who I am but Africa is who we are.

I look forward to discovering myself with you all.


Salha Kaitesi / 14 June 2013

The honour and privilege is all ours! Thank you for playing part in my dream for the African woman. Humbled!

Tumelo / 14 June 2013

Non is truly rewarding then self discovery and finding pride in yourself, heritage and history. Finding yourself ultimately,,,

Moratuoa Rucai Mosenene / 14 June 2013

Tebello, I am impressed in the step forward that you have chosen to take as an African and as a Mosotho child, May this journey bring forth fruitful lessons, and valuable memories. From another African child to another, i say let us do this walk together and encourage others to join in. Being African is a blessing…people who were blessed with the characteristic of Ubuntu..what we as a nation can give back or share with others!! keep it up..

Ntsopa / 14 June 2013

Spoken like a true child of the African Soil, a descendent of King Moshoeshoe….This is a great piece Mokuena!! #we proud

Mphahlele / 16 June 2013

Lumela Ausi Likeleli,

I am very happy that you have found your love for your heritage and identity as a Mosotho (and generally an African) woman. This a wonderful and very encouraging piece that you have written.

I agree with the very first sentence you wrote: that in school they didn’t teach
you about your identity as an African. At least it was not a priority (that was
my experience as well — which is VERY different from other countries, like the U.S.
where children are taught from a very early age to be proud of their nationality).

There are only two points that you expressed where we disagree:
(1) Your experience in being taught only English and Afrikaans and Sesotho being a
“third language” being negative,
(2) Your not having even completed one book in Sesotho.


I think we had slightly different experiences, in that you state that you have never finished
reading a single book in Sesotho. When I went to school all my classes were in English
(like yours, except French and Afrikaans), and we also had a Sesotho class, where we spoke
only in Sesotho but we read Sesotho books and wrote Sesotho assignments — I think this is where our experiences differ.

(1) Being taught primarily in English/Afrikaans at School, with Sesotho being a “third language”:
I had this EXACT same experience as well, as I mentioned above. Since as far
back as I can remember, ALL my classes were taught in English and we were not
even ALLOWED to speak Sesotho in class. There were some teachers who would even
administer CORPORAL PUNISHMENT (i.e., spank us) in grade school if they caught us
speaking Sesotho, or send us to the Principal’s office, where we would be spanked
with a shoe, which she kept in her desk for “special” offenders.

However, in retrospect, this treatment benefited me greatly. After High School,
I wrote my IGCSEs, passed, then took my SATs (university-entrance exams for the U.S.)
and was accepted, and came to the U.S., at 16 years old. I took my first English
class EN-101, and after taking that class, got a recommendation from the professor
to work at the University’s “Learning Resource Center” (this is where students go
if they need help with their classes). So, at 16 years old, I became an African
tutoring Americans in English (their native language). Not only that, but they
were at least 18 years old — that’s the U.S. university entrance age. I was a “B”
student in English in Lesotho, meaning, I was nothing exceptional, but had I not had
this form of instruction, I would never have been able to be a tutor to older university
students, in another country, with my foreign accent (I didn’t have the “twang” you refer
to in your post) in their own mother tongue.

So, I have to disagree with your statement that being taught only in English is
negative. What I would say is that Sesotho should not be neglected (as it sounds
like might have been the case with you). I have more to say about the need to not
neglect Sesotho, but rather to develop the language, later on.

(2) You mention that to this day you have not finished reading a single book in Sesotho:
I could understand if you made this statement and you were still a teenager in school.
I don’t know how long it has been since you finished school, but now that we are both
adults, and you STILL haven’t finished a Sesotho book, I’m sorry but have to blame YOU
for that!

You state that you are working, and from your picture, you appear not to be a teenager
anymore, so, even if you did not read Sesotho books in High School (which would be
deplorable, but unfortunately, being a Mosotho, I know quite possible), picking up a
Sesotho book and reading one at this point, from the Library or the Book Centre,
(and the failure to do so) as an adult would be YOUR responsibility!
Let me know I’m wrong about something.
I may be jumping to conclusions without having all the facts.

There are MANY excellent Sesotho books to read. I don’t even know where to begin.
Try “Mopheme” by “S. Matlosa”, for instance (the one on which the 90s’ TV show was
or “Mali a llelana” by “M. Makara” (just a couple I remember from High School).


Anyway, please don’t take the last couple paragraphs personally. I’m just trying to illustrate
that you can personally “fix” the issue of your not having read any Sesotho book, without blaming the system. It’s true, the system might be broken for a Mosotho to be able to go through school and reach adulthood without ever having read and completed a book in Sesotho, but we should not just blame the system.

I also think you wrote a beautiful paragraph when when you said:

“I wasn’t taught to have pride in my continent because for a long time the rest of the world
considered itself the best teacher, the best writer of the African history as well as the best
storyteller of the African struggle. For a long time the rest of the world considered itself
the best model of life which the African continent and its people should mimic.”

I absolutely agree, and think this has led to many Africans not realizing/acknowledging the
depth of wisdom/history in their own cultures and seeking it elsewhere. (e.g. Maele a Sesotho
have a HUGE amount of wisdom and advice about life. I am ashamed to say that I know very few of them myself other than the basics like “Khomo ke Molimo o nko e metsi”, but this is one area that has been neglected by Basotho in favour of Western philosophy/metaphysics such as that of the Greeks and Germans/Austrians like Nietzsche, Kant, Freud).

I think this is a side-effect of colonialism (i.e., indoctrination of a sense of inferiority
over many generations).

Some of it was purposefully done (e.g., apartheid), but some was not maliciously/purposefully
done. But even in the non-malicious cases, if you are too paternalistic, and “coddle” a child
too much and don’t let it stand up and go outside on its own, it will end up being too “soft” both
emotionally and physically, and not ready to face the challenges of the outside world.

I think that is what has happened to the current generation of Africans: We ended up always looking to the outside world (even after the colonial masters were gone).

Even though I approve of all subjects being taught in English, the only area that I lament is that
as a result, I don’t know the Sesotho terminology for the technical terms in various fields
(e.g. I don’t know how to express “DNA”, or sub-atomic particles like “protons” or “neutrons”
or even something as simple as a “computer” in Sesotho. (For the last one, I suppose I could
say “Boko ba motlakase”, but that’s very awkward). My point is that such terms either
don’t exist or are not standardised, and there is a HUGE list of them from EVERY field.

I think THIS is one of the major tasks for the new generation of Basotho (in addition to the one
which you so eloquently pointed out: that of taking pride in our African heritage and ancestry
just like other countries teach their children to do, and throughout their lives).

We need to keep developing the language to “keep up” with enhancements/developments in technology, otherwise we will HAVE to speak English forever.

(To give you an idea of what I mean, I work in a technical field, and have worked with people
of many different ethnic backgrounds. To give just 3 examples: my co-workers from China,
Korea, and India are able to have technical discussions in their own languages using very little if ANY English. We can’t do that with Sesotho. In my field, we would HAVE to speak in English for the MAJORITY of the time to express/refer to certain technical concepts/devices).

One easy way to start continuously developing Sesotho would be to teach SOME of the classes in schools in Sesotho, so the children can learn the technical Sesotho terminology, (i.e., teach all the classes in English, but once or twice a week, teach the class in Sesotho). There shouldn’t be a “Sesotho Day”, because parents/students misunderstanding the value might be inclined to skip this day. The day on which a Sesotho class is taught should be random for each class and mixed with a majority of English-taught classes (e.g., on Monday it could be Geography and Biology, Tuesday it could be Physics and Math, etc.).

Anyway, thank you very much for the wonderful piece you have written, and Kea U lebohela ngoan’eso, ngoan’a Morena Moshoeshoe.


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