Wednesday, 15 August 2012

DO not speak to me in Afrikaans, please!

Sanlam has a looong Afrikaans history (like SA) and about 90% of the people in the company are Afrikaans speaking. Its so wonderful to see historically Afrikaans corporation going thru transformation. When I got to Standard Bank they had just come out of their transformation period so I never got to be part of the pain and emotion of the process. Although I doubt Standard Bank employees before the change answered their phones in Afrikaans and it was ok...but...a transformation is a transformation hey.
Anyway, before I came to Sanlam I was 'warned' that it is past the Boeregordyn. I didn't even know what this gordyn was. This means, when you are in the Northern Surburbs of Cape Town, which is home to mostly Afrikaans speaking people, you should accept that English isn't the language you should expect to be shouted at if you're crossing the road too slowly.
At my interview, my boss asked me how I feel about Afrikaans. I asked what he meant. Our HR manager calmly explained to me that people here sometimes 'get carried away and speak in their mother tongue in meetings'. I breathed. Then angelically responded that I do not expect that to be a problem for me as it is an internal issue and they should sort it out so I don't have to deal with it. I also added that if I were 'to get carried away' and speak my language, no one in the entire building would understand me. (This was before I knew the big 3 Venda people in our EXCO)

Most employees here have voicemails in their mother tongue, they answer the phone in their mother tongue, emails, requests, the descriptions in the programs-all in some people's mother tongue. Life is good here. I unfortunately have never had such a luxury. I have to speak my 11th language all day, code in it...just to be understood. I guess I could write my descriptions in my code in Tshivenda...but I won't, cos I'm nice like that.
This is all big issue is when I'm in a meeting and someone starts speaking in Afrikaans. If I'm in that forum, I assume I am meant to be part of the discussions. Someone raising a question in a language I do not speak, to me, is them disregarding me as part of that forum. Yes, its not about me, but...perhaps this quetion could be raised outside the forum? Or the person could excuse themself first?
At the start of today's meeting, the lady who invited us asked if there were any English speakers, noted me and confirmed that there were and everything carried on in English.
Then this old woman who should be sitting at home with grandkids/cats starts a loooong string of questions in Afrikaans. With each word that came out of her mouth I wanted to get up and leave. I have had a minimal outburst when a similar incident happened a few months ago. I sorely regreted it as it makes uncomfortability for everyone else...especially the people that always make sure to translate stuff or be helpful and understand that they need to be accommodating. I wonder if this would be done if the (me) in the room was French/American.mxmm.sies
I'm upset at myself for getting so upset...but its just wrong. Some Afrikaans speaking people speak only that language. Shame. I speak 5 and I'm the one being disregarded in meetings. Who'se fault is it that they did not bother to learn at least 1 extra language? I believe English is the medium for communication in corporate South Africa so I refuse to be empathetic to someone who looks past me and carries on in the 1 language they were addressed in since birth with no regard for anyone else. Learning languages is not an easy feat I guess. But one can try. I mean, yes, she's old. If she is not willing to change her way of communication, why doesn't she go home and not have to transform? A lady who works with her later told me that is how this woman is. SHe just couldn't be bothered. Unfortunately, I feel she's behaving like Mandela's daughter when she knows full well she aint royalty. Umm...people that do not wanna transform are sitting on their farms somewhere. The time for such disrespect is loooong past. I do not wish to go to a meeting and be subjected to Afrikaans people! To me, it is the language of oppression and everytime someone addresses me in it they remind me of that. SOmetimes I wonder if this is vele a subtle reminder...a cowardly taunting going on beneath the surface. Yes, paranoia is kicking in.
just sayin.
Maybe I'll add some positives to this post later when I'm calmer...for now...just know DO NOT SPEAK TO ME IN AFRIKAANS!

*A company going thru a transformation is when a company tries to bring its numbers right according to the EE act in SA. Its a good thing. Please note that this post commends both companies mentioned for their transformation. This is about people, not the companies.
And before you accuse me of trashing them, you are CEO of which one in these 2?

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