Accessible money conversations in isiXhosa: YES PLEASE!

Epokothweni is a podcast in isiXhosa providing accessible personal finance content to address financial illiteracy.

Portrait of Babalwa Nonkenge,
Babalwa Nonkenge, Personal Finance Expert, Entrepreneur and Award-Winning Podcaster

I have had the pleasure of interacting with many people who do not speak indigenous South African languages socially throughout my career. What always intrigues me about these interactions is that topics such as inheritance or the latest cryptocurrency are often part of the conversations in the most casual social settings like braais for speakers of English and Afrikaans. I found this quite fascinating because these kinds of discussions rarely come up in social settings or media channels that cater to or appeal to speakers of African languages.

These are some of the realisations that propelled me to create my podcast, Epokothweni with Babalwa Nonkenge, and to the best of my knowledge Epokothweni is the first platform of its kind which produces personal finance content in an indigenous South African language in podcast format. I believe that the lack of such content is directly linked to the high rates of financial illiteracy among South Africans.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the subject of money seems to be one that no-one was consciously taught in homes or schools.

The word epokothweni is derived from an expression in isiXhosa – “ukungena epokothweni” which directly translated means to “enter into someone’s pocket”. This is a euphemism for overstepping boundaries; doing or saying something that is not socially or culturally acceptable. In some African cultural settings, the pocket has always been a realm of mystery where no-one else besides the owner purportedly knows what is going on inside it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the subject of money seems to be one that no-one was consciously taught in homes or schools – meaning that one can surmise that most adults just wing it and hope for the best.

The taboo regarding money matters creates a secrecy and fear of saying something as simple as, “I don’t understand, please help me.” The area of personal finances is one full of English jargon and terminology which is difficult to understand even for degreed individuals. The issue is further compounded in the case of individuals who have little or no schooling and yet they enter into financial commitments on a daily basis.

Epokothweni bridges this gap in that it gives individuals access to content for free, in their own time and as they wish. They interact with the podcast via social media. Since inception in June 2021, each of our episodes is informed by the north star which is to give dignity to the speakers of indigenous languages by producing accessible conversations in the second most spoken language in South African homes. The podcast is available via all major podcast platforms and can be accessed via virtually all smart phones regardless of location.

The podcast has grown to be a space for conversation and cocreation, a step taken deliberately – because the style is conversational and borrows from the storytelling technique which is quite an entrenched knowledge-sharing education and oral history method for most African language speakers. Cocreation is a very important aspect of what we do. We do not merely translate from English as this would be a limitation because some of the terminology does not exist in indigenous African languages. We also use the phrase “financial stewardship” to describe the work we do via the podcast as this demonstrates the idea that one can be a good steward of their money whether they make R1 000 per month or R1 000 000 per month.

The appeal of Epokothweni has extended beyond those who are mother tongue speakers of IsiXhosa (our main language of delivery).

In the early days of the podcast, we spent quite a bit of time educating listeners about what a podcast is and how to subscribe to one because our audiences simply didn’t know what a podcast was – historically relying mainly on radio and television for information.

Currently, the podcast enjoys support from Nguni language speakers as far afield as Germany, UAE, Kenya and the US. In June 2022, the podcast was awarded the Pan South African Language Board award for multi-lingualism in the Business and Technology category. We have been asked by various corporates to provide financial wellness coaching to individuals and groups (in English). We have also produced and published some pieces of commissioned content by two prominent financial services providers. In future, we hope to build life stage applications and to design courses that individuals and groups can purchase and consume in their own time.

The appeal of Epokothweni has extended beyond those who are mother tongue speakers of IsiXhosa (our main language of delivery). The feedback we are getting points to the fact that our growth is being spurred on by our simplicity of delivery and empathy in our approach to conversations as part of the success formula for the podcast.

One of our dreams is to offer the material in more African languages, and to this end we are always on the lookout for opportunities to collaborate with like-minded professionals within the financial services sector.