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Celebrating 200 years of IsiXhosa as a writtenand published language



Nokuthula Mbanyana-Nhleko, Sithembele Harmans, Thando Ngcangisa, Nelson Kilimani, Wandile Kasibe

IsiXhosa is one of the twelve official languages in South Africa, and one of the most popular languages in the country. It is widely spoken in the Eastern Cape and is one of the three official languages in the Western Cape. It was first written and published in 1823 by John Ross and John Bennie in Lovedale (King Williams Town, Eastern Cape, South Africa), giving birth to a great evolutionary journey towards intellectualisation and development of the language. Since then, isiXhosa has evolved as an oral, written, and literary language, producing a litany of plausible novels, short stories, folktales, research papers and essays on social commentary to many other works from reputable writers such as W.B. Rubusana, S.E.K. Mqhayi, N. Jabavu and the likes. The said writers paved the way for new age authors such as S. Magona, T. Ntwana, S. Mahala, A. Masola and others. There has also been astounding research conducted by numerous academics in isiXhosa, introducing the language in academia and assisting in contesting the space through decolonising the academia.

The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) in collaboration with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, South African National Library, Iziko Museums of South Africa, City of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and Western Cape Language Committee held a two day event, comprising the Community Outreach Programme, on Thursday, 9th November and a Colloquium on Friday, 10th November 2023,  at Guga S’thebe Cultural Centre, KwaLanga, Cape Town, to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of IsiXhosa as a written and published language. This event was attended by several Xhosa traditional leaders (Chiefs), stakeholders, the community, schools etc. Included among the presentations on the 9th November 2023 were presentations by three Iziko staff members, Dr Nokuthula Mbanyana-Nhleko (Curator of Entomology), Mr. Sithembele Harmans (Community Outreach Specialist), and Mr. Thando Ngcangisa (Assistant Collections Manager), under the theme ‘The role of museums in promoting cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies’. The three presenters discussed the importance of museums as custodians of tangible and intangible heritage in assisting communities seeking to reclaim, sustain, or preserve their languages through the use of both museum collections and museum education programs. Iziko’s Public Programmes Co-ordinator, Dr Wandile Kasibe and Mr. Ntsikelelo Nelson Kilimani were also part of the Iziko members who joined and contributed to this milestone historic event.

Figure 1: Xhosa traditional leaders (Chiefs) who attended the event and Iziko staff members (Mr. Thando Ngcangisa and Dr Nokuthula Mbanyana-Nhleko). © Mr. Nelson Kilimani.

Figure 2: Mr. Sithembele Harmans (Community Outreach Specialist) talking about the outreach programs offered by Iziko Museums of South Africa – © Mr. Nelson Kilimani.

Figure 3: Dr Nokuthula Mbanyana-Nhleko talking about her research and the role played by the museum researchers in promoting the indigenous languages through museum collections and exhibitions. © Mr. Nelson Kilimani.

Figure 3: Dr Nokuthula Mbanyana-Nhleko talking about her research and the role played by the museum researchers in promoting the indigenous languages through museum collections and exhibitions. © Mr. Nelson Kilimani.

Figure 4: Dr Wandile Kasibe (Public Programmes Co-ordinator at Iziko Museums of South Africa) – during a panel discussion. © Mr. Nelson Kilimani.

Some of the new species currently housed at Iziko Museum collections have been named in isiXhosa by Iziko Researchers, to promote cultural and linguistic diversity, and to acknowledge the significance of indigenous languages and in an effort to preserve the indigenous languages.

Figure 5: Nesomyrmex njengelanga Mbanyana & Robertson 2008 – In isiXhosa, ‘njengelanga’ means ‘like the sun’ and is used here to refer to the yellow colouration of the species. © Nokuthula Mbanyana-Nhleko

Figure 6: Nesomyrmex inye Mbanyana & Robertson 2008 – In isiXhosa, ‘inye’ means ‘one’ and this species is so named because there was only one specimen collected for this species. © Nokuthula Mbanyana-Nhleko.

Figure 7: Belesica madiba Rousse & van Noort, 2014 – This rare gem was respectfully dedicated to “Madiba” Nelson Mandela, for the enlightenment he brought to South Africa and the remainder of the World. Enkosi uhambe kakuhle Tata Madiba. © Simon van Noort. For more information, please visit:

Figure 8: Cremastus tutui Rousse & van Noort, 2014 – Dedicated to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of four South Africans to have received the Nobel Peace prize, in acknowledgment of his life-long fight for Human rights. © Simon van Noort. For more information, please visit

Figure 12: Triacanthella madibai Janion, D’Haese & Deharveng, 2012 – discovered in Cape Town, named after former President of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who celebrated his 20 years of freedom on 11 February 2010. © L. Deharveng

Figure 9: Parisotoma yehlathi Janion-Scheepers, Potapov & Deharveng, 2023. The word ‘yehlathi’ means ‘of the forest’ in the local language, isiXhosa. It reflects the occurrence of this species in Afromontane forests in the Western Cape of South Africa.

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