Steadfast Charlie shows the ropes in Sepedi

HAENERTSBURG – Charlie is employed at Blueberry Heights outside the village, as a supervisor on the farm and has been there almost a decade. He helps during the picking season, is foreman at the workshop where he maintains the tractors, bakkies and power tools and is in charge of the general maintenance of electricity and plumbing.

Charlie studied electrical engineering at Letaba FET in Tzaneen where he did his N1 to N3 and had to drop out of N4 due to financial constraints. He worked for the late Dudley Humphreys from George’s Valley as his personal driver before Dudley travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland. After this Charlie moved to Johannesburg and worked for a Mrs Nkona. He electrified RDP houses in Zagarea Park south of the city and left after three months as he did not receive any payment.

Jonathan Trusler, Manager of Blueberry Farm, was finding it hard not understanding his Sepedi farmhands, which prompted Charlie’s inspiration. Charlie, in his soft-spoken perfect English, thanks to the educators at Thusanang, says: “We had a meeting at Jonathan’s house. We decided that the Mountain Café restaurant on the property would be an ideal venue for me to teach Jonathan and other interested parties Sepedi. We chose Mondays and Tuesdays as the restaurant is closed those days”.

He started the 10-lesson course with 20 adult students of which eight dropped out as they admitted they hadn’t practiced after each lesson and got lost in the process. Four students practiced diligently and can now understand Sepedi. Sepedi is part of Sotho and Tswana and forms the biggest language group in South Africa with tenses just as in English. The language has also borrowed heavily from the Afrikaans language. For example a chair or stoel in Afrikaans is setolo in Sepedi. The Afrikaans word for mother is ma and in Sepedi it’s mma.

“My parents are illiterate. They attended one of Karin Boyum’s literacy courses but dropped out as it was too difficult for them. I have always helped them with their language difficulties and either translate English into Sepedi for them or read to them in Sepedi to help them,” Charlie says.

He has had three major events recently and hopes that life will now deal him better cards. He had a car accident, followed by cutting off a finger with one of the power tools and then experienced the devastating loss of his only child, his three-year-old daughter Tsego, almost two months ago.

She contracted pneumonia and this led to bouts in various hospitals including Tzaneen Mediclinic and Letaba Hospital. Tsego was then admitted to the Steve Biko Hospital in Pretoria where she died of a serious heart condition.

“The headmaster at Stanford Lake College, Craig Carolan, wants me to teach Sepedi to his teachers starting in August,” Charlie says with excitement at the prospect.

Charlie learned, from this elementary course, that many people find it really difficult to learn another language, so he went back to grassroots- level books for this Sepedi course while still keeping up with reading English books and newspapers.

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Sue Ettmayr

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