isiXhosa Literature Needs to Break Free of Its Fetters
It is widely accepted that the only book that sells in indigenous languages is the Bible. If this is so, then isiXhosa literature has lost its sense of place, its sense of spirituality, of providing mature commentary on the society within which the language exists.
This is the result of the continual oppression and trivialising of indigenous literatures that has led to their unnatural development, resulting in lack of identification with the indigenous word by speakers of African languages.
This restricted the full development of an indigenous South African identity.
isiXhosa literature was initially oppressed and controlled by missionaries, resulting in the loss of independence of the book in terms of thematic repertoire.
Many years later, isiXhosa literature was more severely suppressed by apartheid's corrupt and generally conservative language boards operating in former homelands which advised publishers on manuscripts to be published that would be prescribed in schools.
The commissioning editors for isiXhosa publications in mainstream publishing companies, at the time, were initially white and monolingual.
The readers who vetted the material were isiXhosa speakers, often conservative writers who upheld the apartheid status quo.
And so, a cycle was created which fed "law-abiding" and conservative material, perspectives and attitudes into the school market, limiting the full and natural development of isiXhosa literature.
The Department of Arts and Culture, the Department of Education and the Pan South African Language Board are faced with the mammoth task of implementing the constitution which allows for the equal treatment of all official languages.
However, the effect of implementing this policy has yet to play itself out fully in the literary and publishing world.
The lack of visibility of implementation at government level, where most politicians have, for example, capitulated to the use of English in parliament, does little to convince the speakers of indigenous languages of their worth.
Publishers then do not see the value of publishing in these languages, except for the school market.
Political changes since 1990 also liberated authors, reasserting literature as an "articulator of freedom" and potentially restoring literature as a symbol of nationhood and identity.
Since the 1990s, black-run printing presses such as Skotaville, Vivlia and BARD published works by popular authors such as Welile Shasha, Ncedile Saule and Mandla Matyumza.
Black directors began taking up positions in previously white-owned companies. Black commissioning editors were employed and began working in their own languages.
There were major cutbacks in terms of spending on books by the new Department of Education, the lifeblood supporting isiXhosa literature, but mainly at schools. …