Having the privilege of travelling to different parts of the world is an honour indeed. I have just returned from a lengthy trip to Europe and the United Kingdom and came across many instances of innovative and clever communication.
But I found the most moving and inspiring as I was about to leave on my journey. And this was nowhere exotic. It was in the mother city of South Africa, Cape Town.
The young man who picked me up to take me to the airport was a recent arrival in Cape Town. He came from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, the centre of one of the most poverty-stricken provinces in our land. It is, however, a province of extreme natural beauty and also happens to be the home province of Nelson Mandela.
As is my wont, I was soon chatting to him about his work. Extremely well spoken and with an enviable vocabulary in the English language, this Xhosa-speaking driver was soon sharing his ambition to write.
He was already jotting down stories and anecdotes gleaned from those whom he ferried to and from the airport in Cape Town. But, probably in the tradition of so many writers, both aspirant and successful, he wondered if it was worth it. Of course, I encouraged him to keep at it and suggested some ways in which he could explore his creative talents.
I wondered aloud, however, at how he had come by his magnificent command of the English language – not his mother tongue as you will have gathered. It was a story of exhilaration and hope.
After leaving school near Mthatha, the driver – his name was Sibusiso – got a job as a cleaner in a building which housed a college providing extra lessons in English. He watched the students toing and froing, embracing everything from Shakespeare to complex grammatical constructions. He listened to them enjoying the poetry of South African and foreign poets. He yearned to learn.
The classes were also held on a Saturday mornings. Sibusiso’s day off was a Saturday. Unable to afford the classes, he would “visit” the building on a Saturday and “clean” the corridor outside the classroom. There he listened and learnt. He even did the assignments.
It struck me as I sat entranced by the story at how many young people given the opportunity to learn both at school and at university prostitute their privilege. It struck me at how ashamed government and business communicators must be of the poor standard of English they use in their public discourse.
Examples abound in our country. The education system is blamed – no doubt justifiably. But it is not just education systems to blame: people, individuals who take opportunity for granted and dispel the notion of learning to communicate have much to answer for.
Communication is, after all, basic to everything we do. Even more so in our modern age.
Sibusiso shows us that it is slothfulness that produces bad writing. Laziness borne of arrogance in holding down a job when others, with better English skills, don’t have the requisite qualification to make the grade.
Good writing is not about having a degree in English literature, or anything else English for that matter. Good writing is about commitment and a burning desire to tell the world, through your writing.