Seawinds resident Bradley van Sitters made headlines over the past week when he became the first Khoi praise
singer to usher a president in at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the National Address (SONA) address at the sitting of the nation’s sixth Parliament on Thursday June 20.
The heritage activist and poet honoured Krotoa and Sara Baartman in Khoekhoegowab – the language spoken by the Nama, Damara and Hai om ethnic
These groups now predominantly live in the Northern Cape and Namibia.
Born in Lavender Hill, he attended Levana Primary School and Sibelius High School. Mr Van Sitters said he always knew something was amiss and one day when he was abroad in France, he was asked to speak his mother tongue.
He spoke Afrikaans and was told that it could not be his mother tongue as Dutch was very similar. Mr Van Sitters was perturbed by this and did some research.
“It made me wonder and then I did some research and started learning about the Khoekhoegowab language from a man called Pedro Dousa and from that point more and more people wanted to learn.”
Talking about the label “coloured”, Mr Van Sitters said it was a name given to a certain group of people and it should be rectified.
“The name was given to us by colonisers and it should be changed because we need to embrace our heritage,” he said.
““I always wondered and questioned what it means to be ‘coloured’. Certain negative things are expected from people with a certain skin colour. People said we don’t have heritage or culture but this is our culture and our heritage, the Khoekhoegowab language and the Khoisan people. Since then my aim has been to bring pride back to the beautiful language that was born and bred in Africa. We are African and it’s time to embrace our Africanness and speak the language of our people. Afrikaans is not our language; we need to connect to our own identity,” he said.
In 2011 Mr Van Sitters enrolled himself at the Uni-
versity of Namibia where he learned the Khoekhoegowab language.
Since then he has been spearheading initiatives to teach the indigenous language and teaches at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
He received a call from Parliament the day before Sona and was unsure about whether he should do the praise song.
“Because it was so short notice I wasn’t too well prepared but I took it as an opportunity and decided to do it,” Mr Van Sitters said.
Last week some media reports suggested that Mr Van Sitters had not been speaking the Khoisan language properly when he performed the praise song
Namibian journalist Emil Seibeb and other critics took to social media after the Sona praise song and questioned Mr Van Sitters’ knowledge of the language.
“Thank you South Africa for introducing the Khoe-Khoe Gowab AKA Damara/Nama Gowab, at a university in Cape Town. Khoe-khoe Gowab is one of the main languages in Namibia.” he noted
“It is important to state firstly that there is a difference between Khoi-San and Khoe-Khoe…these are completely two different languages.
“The gentleman who ushered their president into the chamber for yesterday’s Sona attempted to praise sing in Khoe-Khoe. He unfortunately sounded like a two year old child learning how to speak the language. It was clear he grew up as an Afrikaans speaking person. His pronunciation and intonation were (sic) bad.”
But Mr Van Sitters explains; “There is the Khoi and San language family that have many members. I studied Khoekhoegowab and I am a third language speaker, not a first generation speaker. Obviously I will not speak the same as first language speakers. It is a multi-layered language and it is quite difficult and I am not fluent so I will make mistakes here and there.
“This also speaks to the loss of language and the erasure of memory. Many people feel the familiarity of the language because it’s within them and we still use words like aba (carry on someone’s back) and eina (a response to pain). It will be a process to relearn but we are encouraging people to em-
brace their heritage and learn their indigenous language,” he said.
Kai Bi‘a Hennie van Wyk from the Gorachouqua Tribe, to which Mr Van Sitters belongs, agreed.
“Our language has been denied and therefore when people do speak the language the pronunciation and intonation are on par with first language speakers.
“Bradley is very passionate about the language and it is where his heart lies. He has studied at the University of Namibia and what he said during Sona made a lot of sense.
“I don’t believe he should be criticised because he put Khoi at the centre stage again to show that the Khoi culture is very much alive,” said Mr Van Wyk.
“I do think that he should have been given more time to prepare. The leadership of the tribe should have been invited and the fact that not a single stitch was mentioned about the struggle of the Khoi in the Sona address even though we are continuously engaging the president on these issues,” he said.
Mr Van Sitters added that he would continue the fight to have the Khoe Khoe people recognised.
“Xuige * !khams !* â ta da sa. Toa tama !khams ge” which translates; Therefore let us not rest in the fight. The struggle continues.”