The Xhosa Sci-Fi book everyone’s asking about!

black kid

By Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni

Leading up to the last post, many of our followers on social media have been asking about the book.  “George’s Secret Key to the Universe” titled Iqhosha eliyimfihlelo kaGeorge kuzungezo lweNdalo, in isiXhosa, is a delightful science fiction book for young readers.

The book carries a scientific message for children, exposing them to a world of science, astronomy, and physics. This read strikes a balance between adventure and science. In several segments of the book, the adventure is suspended and Lucy and Steven Hawking’s expound further on the science, detailing themes such as exoplanets, the origin of life, and of course the black hole. Amid an adventure filled story, a great deal of learning occurs, which means that the usefulness of the book continues after the reader has put the book down.

Xolisa was inspired to translate this book after seeing how captured her then nine year-old son was by the content in the book. She continues to say “I thought if my son can learn and love science through fiction at the tender age of 9, what of other 9-year-olds in the country?” The experience of translating George’s Secret Key to the Universe affirmed Xolisa’s belief that stories can be used as a stimulus, an appetite wetter to invoke enthusiasm for physics amongst young readers. To conclude she says for too long Africans believed that there is no language in science and mathematics, yet there is.

Xolisa’s work is a massive gain for all who are invested in rebuilding quality education in South Africa. To begin, Xolisa is taking content that is commonly consumed by those who can fluently read English and is exposing the material to Xhosa readers. Secondly, she is matching languages with stories, because without language a child can never access the knowledge or the story. Given the two-tier education system in South Africa, Xolisa understands the challenges of expecting children to learn through a language they do not speak, a language that is not spoken by their parents and a language they do not think in.

This problem is worse in poorer schools where children experience at best three years of mother tongue, then changing to English medium schools after a year of English introduction. This is the tale of two cities where children in predominantly township schools (commonly with a poor command of the English language) are likely to be disadvantaged both through language and pedagogy. Thirdly, Xolisa is boldly building up a glossary of African terms, so that scientific words are not confined to the English language, but are rather explored in African language. This is a major step towards the intellectualization of African languages in the South African context and beyond.

Clearly, Xolisa Guzula’s work puts children at the center. Xolisa challenges black families especially where parents work eight or more hour days, with weekends tied to community commitments, to ponder the question: “Where do we put our children on our list of priorities?”

George’s Secret Key to the Universe will be published by Jacana Media. The Zulu manuscript is soon to be finalised before the books go to printing. Jacana Media usually place their books at Exclusive Books stores and at The Book Lounge.


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