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Language has to be on national agenda

Date Released: Thu, 17 May 2012 10:59 +0200

Multilingualism in higher education faces challenges SOUTH Africa's democracy was at a crossroads and language, at the heart of real transition and liberation, was not even on the national agenda, political analyst and commentator Professor Somadoda Fikeni warned.

Speaking at a Rhodes University public lecture on the challenges of multilingualism in higher education, Fikeni said South Africa was the poorer for its lack of robust public discourse on language and other vital issues.

Society suffered from an honesty and a courage deficit, he said.

"We took issues of race reconciliation to mean all sensitive issues should not be attended to in case some people are hurt. So we avoid them like the plague. This is society's honesty deficit."

The culture of political intolerance also interfered with robust public discourse. People risked their "deployment opportunities" if they spoke the truth.

"So society suffers from a courage deficit. Few are driven by conviction or courage but rather by the strategic document or manifesto of their party."

He described South Africa as being at a crossroads.

While all the institutions of democracy were in place, including a constitution, the issue of social justice had not been attended to in any profound way.

"Hence the goodwill we had in the time of Madiba (former president Nelson Mandela) is corroding."

Language was prioritised in the constitution but there had been no courage to implement what the document intended. For the first 15 years of democracy, government had neglected arts, culture and heritage issues.

Resources were directed elsewhere and the result was that in public spaces English dominated.

He said communities defined their identity, existence and heritage through language.

"If you shake that foundation you shake the very soul of a people.

"Supplant a language and you kill the cultural base of a people and more."

He warned the debate around multilingualism at higher education level was just beginning and it would be a long struggle.

He said Rhodes, which was a leading institution when it came to multilingualism, had the potential to define the frontiers of multilingualism in higher education.

The head of the School of Languages and chairperson of the Rhodes University language committee, Professor Russell Kaschula, said developing languages "should be an institutional imperative".

Rhodes took this seriously, which is why it was the only South African Research Chairs Initiative (Sarchi) chair (of African Languages) in the country.

The Rhodes School of African Languages has introduced isixhosa for law, pharmacy, psychology, journalism and media studies and isixhosa mothertongue.

Rhodes vice-chancellor Dr Saleem Badat said 12 years ago anti-apartheid activist Neville Alexander warned the challenge was not to eliminate Afrikaans universities but to extend the provision of higher education in languages other than English and Afrikaans.

"He said then that if we started in 2000 in two or three generations we might have a university that teaches only in isixhosa or Sesotho. Twelve years later and we have made no progress on this fundamental issue."

 

17 May 2012

Daily Dispatch

By ADRIENNE CARLISLE

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