LAN­GUAGE – indige­nous lan­guages in par­tic­u­lar in South Africa has al­ways been a very sticky is­sue.

It is un­set­tling that 24 years into democ­racy we are still de­bat­ing whether indige­nous lin­guis­tic com­mu­ni­ties should be given the same plat­form as the pre­vi­ously and still ad­van­taged lan­guages, namely English and Afrikaans.

The marginalised indige­nous lin­guis­tic com­mu­ni­ties con­tinue feel­ing the pres­sure to as­sim­i­late and adapt to lin­guis­tic cul­tures and iden­ti­ties that con­trast with who they are.The use of indige­nous lan­guages at four or five ra­dio sta­tions and the pro­vi­sion of sub­ti­tles for some TV pro­grammes are far from the ac­tual re­al­i­sa­tion of mul­ti­lin­gual­ism.

TV chan­nels that are as­signed to indige­nous lan­guages have al­most 30% of pro­grammes that are pre­sented in pure indige­nous lan­guages – the rest are still in English.

The few indige­nous news­pa­pers that are around are known to only a few. If the sys­tem was in­deed in sup­port of these ini­tia­tives then these news­pa­pers, writ­ten in indige­nous lan­guages, would be made avail­able reg­u­larly all over the coun­try. The jour­nal­ists and ed­i­tors must also be ac­knowl­edged and given all the sup­port they de­serve.

Ac­cord­ing to the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Repub­lic of South Africa, 1993: “(1) Afrikaans, English, isiNde­bele, Sesotho sa Le­boa, Sesotho, siSwati, Xit­songa, Setswana, Tshiv­enda, isiXhosa and isiZulu shall be the of­fi­cial South African lan­guages at na­tional level, and con­di­tions shall be cre­ated for their de­vel­op­ment and for the pro­mo­tion of their equal use and en­joy­ment.”

In con­tin­ues, “(9) Leg­is­la­tion, as well as of­fi­cial pol­icy and prac­tice, in re­la­tion to the use of lan­guages at any level of gov­ern­ment shall be sub­ject to and based on the pro­vi­sions of this sec­tion and the fol­low­ing prin­ci­ples:

The creation of con­di­tions for the de­vel­op­ment and for the pro­mo­tion of the equal use and en­joy­ment of all of­fi­cial South African lan­guages;

The ex­ten­sion of those rights re­lat­ing to lan­guage and the sta­tus of lan­guages which at the com­mence­ment of this Con­sti­tu­tion are re­stricted to cer­tain re­gions;

The pre­ven­tion of the use of any lan­guage for the pur­poses of ex­ploita­tion, dom­i­na­tion or di­vi­sion;

The pro­mo­tion of mul­ti­lin­gual­ism and the pro­vi­sion of trans­la­tion fa­cil­i­ties."

There has been re­luc­tance from those meant to up­hold the Con­sti­tu­tion to spell out ex­actly what is ex­pected of the cus­to­di­ans of these indige­nous lan­guages.

Some­how pupils from African indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties have to learn Afrikaans as their First Ad­di­tional Lan­guage with English be­ing made their mother-tongue lan­guage, by de­fault.

It is equally sad that even those schools that have de­cided to in­tro­duce isiXhosa in their cur­ricu­lum have only one isiXhosa teacher for the en­tire Foun­da­tion Phase, where each Grade has a min­i­mum of three classes.

It is ob­vi­ous then that the isiXhosa teacher will not cope in such an en­vi­ron­ment and is de­lib­er­ately set up to fail.

The Use of Of­fi­cial Lan­guages Act, of 2012, pro­vides for the es­tab­lish­ment of lan­guage units in na­tional de­part­ments, na­tional pub­lic en­ti­ties and na­tional pub­lic en­ter­prises. I want to be­lieve that the call also ex­tends to all in­sti­tu­tions of learn­ing.

The marginal­i­sa­tion of indige­nous lan­guages and cul­tures did not be­gin and end with the dawn of colo­nial­ism and democ­racy, but it is more of a so­cio-lin­guis­tic gen­er­a­tional curse and part of a vi­cious cy­cle.

The first Pi­o­neers of Xhosa Lit­er­a­ture lecture was held in the Li­brary Au­di­to­rium at UWCon Wed­nes­day.

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