Having recently won a poetry competition and graduated cum laude, James Seanego is on form. He is also helping to preserve his Northern Sotho language, officially known as Sesotho sa Leboa.
There is often debate over the significance and relevance of African languages in the educational system, particularly in South Africa. For 25-year-old masters student Seanego there is no debate, it is clearly part of his heritage.
Sesotho sa Leboa is South Africa’s third-largest African language (after isiZulu and isiXhosa), and mainly spoken in Limpopo. Like Sesotho and Setswana, it is a Sotho language.
Seanego is a temporary lecturer at the University of Limpopo in the School of Language Education.
The university held the first of its virtual graduation ceremonies on Monday 6 July. Due to the national lockdown, though, it conferred 4 316 degrees in absentia, 26 of which were doctorates.
Like many other graduates on the day, Seanego kept his eyes glued to the small screen of his smartphone and watched the ceremony unfold. It was a proud moment when his name appeared with “cum laude”, signifying that he passed his honours degree with a distinction.
Then, just days after graduating Seanego shared the cover of the book of poetry he and Roger Lobeleng Sethole had written.
“Literary texts in the Northern Sotho language are diminishing and run the risk of going extinct. I was then propelled to write using this language,” says Seanego.
“What I try to do is ensure that this language is preserved,” he says. This is part of his preference to write in his home language.
But the new anthology Mamapo A Tsa Semana is not his first success.
Seanego served as a student mentor under the Baditi Student Mentorship Programme. This saw him win back-to-back Best Mentor Awards in the School of Language and Communications respectively.
Then, in another push to preserve his language, Seanego saw his work feature in the 2018 Avbob Poetry Competition.
Celebrating the 100th Mandela anniversary in 2018, the National Library of South Africa called for poetry. It asked for poets to submit work in all the country’s 11 official languages.
The institution trimmed down submissions to a final 100 to form a poetry anthology. And, guess what? Seanego’s work made the cut.
Then, late last year, his poetry manuscript Phalafala ya Madisong won second prize in another literary competition. This time it was in the Northern Sotho Poetry category in the Limpopo Department of Sport, Arts and Culture competition.