A voice boomed over the PA system in the mayoral chamber of the Polokwane Local Municipality.
“I now call upon a member from the Women and Children’s Association,” the chairperson’s voice echoed through the chamber.
Instead of the usual figure of a grey haired adult, a little girl in white shirt and black skirt rose confidently to take up her place on the podium.
A warm round of applause accompanied her short little strides.
This wasn’t a normal council sitting. It was a sitting of a different kind, by a different kind of leader.
A total of 60 learners nominated from different schools around Polokwane were participating in the Youth Parliament.
The sitting formed part of the Children’s Fair programme of the Polokwane Literary Fair.
Now in its eight year, the Fair is described as “multi-disciplinary and concerned with the preservation of South African and continental history and heritage, particularly through a concerted effort in exploring and ensuring prominence of indigenous languages and knowledge systems.“
This year’s highlights include an exhibition of the life and times of Hugh Masekela, the music icon who died of natural causes last year.
It also includes music, live poetry, book launches and a writers in conversation dialogue.
Sepedi literary giants Prof Maje Serudu, Dr Herbert Lentsoane and the late OK Matsepe will be conferred honorary awards while Thabang Tabane, who continues the legacy of his late father Dr Philip Tabane the founder of Malombo music, will deliver a musicians in conversation piece.
The Children’s Fair which started Monday included story-telling, Spelling Bee and Wordathon and writing workshops targeted at learners from various schools drawn from around the Polokwane local municipality.
It also included as one of the highlights the Mayoral Trophy Debate Grand Finale in which learners debated the municipality’s plan to Polokwane into a smart city.
The Youth Parliament debate pitted those who are in support of the use of English as the official language of business and those opposed to the idea.
The learners tackled the subject with a maturity and intellect and the debate is all the more relevant as UNESCO has declared 2019 the ‘International Year of the Mother Tongue.’
Unesco says approximately 600 languages have disappeared in the last century, and paints an even grimmer picture, saying that languages continue to disappear at a rate of one language every two weeks.
Unesco says 90 percent of the world’s languages are likely to disappear before the end of this century if current trends continue.
However the vigour with which the Youth Parliamentarians tackled the issue offered much hope that at least a seed has been planted to ensure that indigenous languages do not disappear.
They argued that although English is a universal language that helps South Africans to communicate with the world and opening opportunities in business; many local people are at a disadvantage because it’s not their mother tongue.
They argued further that learners struggle in school because they are taught in English, a language they hardly understand – which puts them at a disadvantage especially when it comes to scientific languages.
Polokwane executive mayor Thembi Nkadimeng said the Polokwane Literary Fair is an important asset and instrument that facilitates nation building, intra-generational and cultural dialogue, and the preservation of aspects of the history and heritage.