In the Zulu culture, there is a wonderful phrase that is spoken when someone has achieved a major milestone or something of significance.
“Siya kubongela mtanami usebenzile.”
There are a few translations of this phrase and most local African languages have a version of their own. Translations of the phase include, “You have done well! Congratulations!” or, “Congratulations! You’ve done it!”
My favourite is,
“You have worked, my child.”
It is reserved for use on special occasions and events only. The kind of achievement that requires one to dig deep, make sacrifices, show character, grit and determination. Many elders of the community, the respected and the wise, grandparents, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, all pay homage for the achievement, by saying the phrase.
“You have worked,” in this context has a nuanced, deeper meaning, that is not clear when translated. Historically, due to our country’s abhorrent past, young black South Africans had little chance of finishing high school, let alone going to college or university. The knock-on effect is obvious with their ultimate exclusion from economic advancement.
To overcome this massive obstacle, communities would rally together. Families – grandparents, aunts and uncles – and would pool their resources – finances and otherwise. Everyone works together, to ensure a child could go to school and maybe even on to university. Because the community and family is vested in the success of the candidate, the achievement is honoured and celebrated for the deep sacrifices that had to be made by all.
It is not only at graduation ceremonies that you will hear it spoken. When buying his first car, a son may hear his father say it to him. When a couple are getting married or buying a home, there is similar sentiment expressed. Or, it could be used as a congratulations for a daughter starting a new job.
“You have done it, my child! No matter the trials and hardships you had to go through, you stayed the course. Regardless of the sacrifices, you did it. Today you can stand proud knowing that you overcame insurmountable obstacles. Your great achievement, is an achievement that benefits everyone.”
I love the gravitas of the phase and how deep it is rooted in the sacrifices that had to be made. How often do we take our privileged circumstances for granted that have allowed us to achieve more than most?