Lydia Nyati-Ramahobo – Botswana

Linked with The Case of Shiyeyi in Botswana, with The Kamanakao Association, and with Africa and Poverty.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: ”There is great potential to revive the language. If the middle aged, who are the majority in the workshops, can gain a sense of self-worthy as Wayeyi and begin to speak the language to their children, the language can survive. The starting point is self-discovery and appreciation of ones language and culture”. (Literacy online).

Lydia’s struggle is genuine; she has approached it with a great sense of responsibility, patience, dedication, and selflessness. She is determined to achieve equality and unity through peaceful means.

Lydia Nyati-Ramahobo - Botswana one rogné redim 80p.jpg
Lydia Nyati-Ramahobo – Botswana

She works as a co-founder of the Kamanakao Association, a pressure group for the linguistic and cultural rights of Wayeyi tribe. She organises workshops to collect data on the language, for a preliminary draft orthography. Lydia Nyati-Ramahobo (48) was born in Botswana. She obtained her Masters’ and PhD degrees in Applied Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. She is associate professor and dean at the Faculty of Education at the University of Botswana. She is co-founder of the Kamanakao Association, a pressure group for the linguistic and cultural rights of the Wayeyi tribe. She is also founder of Reteng, a multicultural coalition of Botswana people. Through her efforts, the government of Botswana set up a committee to review all laws that discriminate against non-Tswanas.

Discrimination in Botswana resembles that of apartheid South Africa where the powerful minority oppressed the majority and made them invisible socially, economically and politically. “Language is power and through language people create meaning of their world and build self-confidence” says Lydia. Lydia Nyati- Ramahobo, 48, obtained her Masters and PhD in Applied Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1985 and 1991 respectively. She is currently Associate Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Education. Her publications include the book “The National Language”. Her areas of interest are: language in education, language and ethnicity, education research and female education. She is the co-founder and coordinator of the Kamanakao Association, a pressure group for the linguistic and cultural rights of Wayeyi tribe in Botswana. She is also founder and Secretary General of the RETENG, the multi cultural coalition of Botswana. Through her efforts, the government of Botswana set up a committee to review all laws that discriminate non-Tswana speaking tribes such as the Wayeyi and the Basarwa (bushmen).

Lydia is working in the area of Human Rights, specifically dealing with linguistic and cultural rights of non-Tswana speaking tribes in Botswana. The constitution of Botswana, the chieftainship Act, and the Tribal Territories Act only recognise the Tswana speaking tribes at the exclusion of 26 others. As a result only SeTswana language and culture occupy the public space. The Tswana have group rights to land as sovereigns of eight of the twelve (12) regions of the country. The chiefs are recognised and admitted to the House of Chiefs as ex-officio members. Although the Wayeyi are the majority tribe, their language became a minority language.

Lydia, a co-founder of the Kamanakao Association, a pressure group for the linguistic and cultural rights of Wayeyi tribe, sought funding for and organised workshops to collect data on the language. In 1998 a draft orthography statement was adopted which meant that materials could now be produced using this preliminary orthography. She has engaged other scholars to work on the grammar of Shiyeyi and a grammar book by Dr. Lukusa of the Department of African Languages and Literature at the University of Botswana has been published. In 2002 under the auspices of RETENG, a multi cultural coalition of Botswana people, preliminary writing rules for non-Tswana languages were completed except Setswapong. Another important component of the project was to carry out a feasibility study for the establishment of a community radio station in the North West district area where Shiyeyi is spoken. This study has been completed. With her own funds, Lydia produced a popular music cassette titled “Tao thowa”, which was launched on television on March 8 2004. Her organisation, RETENG has been labelled as political and divisive.

Politicians have described her as an academic without intellect because she challenges them head-on. All her financial sources have been blocked except her salary. She cannot even do consultancy work. The government’s bad attitude towards her work and multi-culturalism in Botswana is a major challenge to Lydia. Associating with Lydia is apparently viewed as courting trouble but on the other hand she is the power to the powerless and voice to the voiceless. (Read all on 1000peacewomen).

A coalition of thirteen associations of non-Tswana speaking ethnic groups in Botswana, including the Wayeyi tribal community, have raised their concerns over ‘assimilationist policies’ which deny their linguistic and cultural rights and leave them marginalized. Calling for dialogue with the government, the coalition representative stated that non-Tswana speaking groups are not recognized or consulted on decisions affecting their lives through their chiefs, lack rights to land, and do not have their languages used in education, the national radio and other social domains. (Read the rest on Minority Rights.org).

Francistown High Court has ordered Kamanakao Association’s Leganang Motanzi, Lydia Nyati-Ramahobo and Otsile Ditsheko to appear before the high court on August 7 to answer why their association buried Calvin Kamanakao at the Kamanakao Cultural Centre in defiance of court order issued prior to the burial. (see on Republic of Botswana).

Botswana is home to eight major tribes whose rights, leaders and languages are recognised in the Constitution. The Wayeyi, or Bayeyi, are one of the many peoples of Botswana who fall outside this group. The Wayeyi are a Bantu people who live in the Okavango Delta area of the northern Kalahari whose lives and livelihoods are regulated by the flooding and receding of the Okavango River. The Wayeyi are cattle-rearing people whose villages are sited on high ground away from the flooding of the Okavango River. They grow drought-resistant crops such as millet and sorghum and rear cows, goats and sheep for their milk, skins and meat. During the annual flooding of the Okavango Delta, fishing is of high importance but hunting and gathering are of diminishing importance to the Wayeyi, especially due to the increasingly severe hunting restrictions. The craftmanship of their canoes, drums, furniture and jewellery is highly sophisticated, and many women sell basketwork and beaded items. (Read the rest on Survival International.org).

links:

Adult Education and Poverty Reduction;

Violations of Linguistic and Cultural Rights of Minority Groups in Botswana;

Language Planning;

Open Directory;

Listserv;

International Literacy Conference.

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