File photo
Johannesburg - Sawubona, dumelang, thobela, avuxeni, goiemore, bonjour, namaste, ola are some of the phrases that may be heard today as many people around the world celebrate International Mother Language Day.
The day, which is celebrated on February 21 every year, was established at a general conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Orgnisation (Unesco) in 1999.
It also symbolises the tragic events of 1952 when students in Bangladesh were shot and killed by the police after they demonstrated for the recognition of their language as one of the two national languages in Pakistan. 
The United Nations also affirms that languages are the most powerful instrument of preserving and developing tangible and intangible heritage.
But it goes beyond understanding and mastering a mere greeting for one to speak, embrace and value their mother tongue.



This is what a Joburg couple has sought to highlight through a series of children's books published in Isixhosa, Isizulu, Sepedi and various other languages.
Themba and Ndabezinhle Mabaso of Roosevelt Park have spent the last couple of years, through illustration and interacting with experts, perfecting children's books in order to ensure the little ones remember and appreciate where they come from.
"There is now a realisation from families especially black households that by losing your language, you lose the essence of who you are. Various model C' and private schools have caught onto this. From a young age, children are now being taught in their home language. I know this through being a parent. My children took up Zulu when they were young and now they will progress with it all the way through to university. In a world so diverse and dominated by Western Culture, it's a legacy I have chosen to leave behind for them," Ndabezinhle says.
The mother of two, alongside her husband, decry the fact that most of the time children are disarmed of their mother language when they begin school and instead are taught that, because of its universal approach, English must be given top priority.
"This absolutely cuts them (children off).What further exacerbates the situation is that we parents stop speaking to our children in their own mother tongue. We don't even have material to read to our children or material we can use to play with them," Ndabezinhle adds.
Having published a series of books with titles such as uGimba Nesondo (Gimba and his Tyre) as well Wafa Nogwaja and UNodaka Nosele through their own company, Njabulo Publishers, the Mabaso's reveal that their story comes from seeing a gap in children showing interest in books written in their home tongue. According to Themba, the idea and his passion to write books for young children came about during his first year at varsity.
"I loved books. I would stop playing soccer with friends and run off to the library. I was intrigued at the illustrations. Most of the books I read at the time were from England. The concepts were very foreign to me. Whenever I read a book about snow I relied on the pictures to help me understand them better," he says.
Themba says shortly after that he had a Eureka moment and realised that he could write books about topics that children in South Africa could relate to. He came up with a story about a taxi called Gimba.
"Snow, tower clocks are not something we see every day. But taxis are all around us. I sat down and framed a story around a greedy taxi. I picked up little hints from the taxis I used at the time," he says.
Although his idea was brilliant, not many mainstream bookstores or publishers bought into his idea. He self-published and has never looked back ever since.
To date, the couple has released various books which are sought after by many families, small book stores and some private schools which find them useful to teach second languages.
The books are also used to capture folklore stories, which the couple says is important to revive and keep alive.
In South Africa, isiZulu remains as the most spoken indigenous official language followed by Isixhosa, Afrikaans.
Since the beginning of the year, social media platforms particularly Twitter have also been inundated with comments regarding legendary Xitsonga (Tsonga) singer Papa Penny who many have commended for embracing his language despite and not conforming to Western culture.
The Pan South African Language Board has meanwhile declared February as Language Activism Month. The campaigns is aimed at encouraging all citizens not to speak their mother tongues but live their languages.
The organisations has also planned various activities throughout today with the hashtag #SpeakItLiveIt.
[email protected]
Politics and Development