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Speaking in Tongues

Date Released: Tue, 12 April 2011 10:05 +0200

Mixed reaction to Nzimande's African languages proposal for students

The proposal by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to make African languages at tertiary level compulsory has received mixed reactions.

Speaking at the launch of the new Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education in Pretoria earlier this week, the minister said he had tasked an advisory panel with investigating how to raise the profile of African languages.

"One of the things we are looking into is... to what extent should we consider that every university student in South Africa must at least learn one African language as a condition for graduating," he said.

Dr Linda Kwatsha-Nkukwana, senior Xhosa lecturer and acting director of language, media and culture at NMMU, has welcomed the proposal.

"Definitely NMMU will be for the proposal... it will put the students at an advantage in a world of multilingualism," he said.

"In most job adverts, the applicant is required to have at least one indigenous language to qualify for that particular job. This is an indication that at work you won't give services to English and Afrikaans speakers only."

However, students at NMMU had their doubts.

Information systems student Tlholohelo Thipa, 19, is against the proposal. "Students should not be forced into a situation that says we cannot further our education without an African language.  It should be encouraged, not enforced."

Communication studies student Jerry Thebe agreed. "Being educated should be learning something because you love to learn about it. It would also require a lot of resources, which the government could use on more pressing matters elsewhere."

Eastern-Cape-born award-winning musician Simphiwe Dana, also an advocate of African languages, supports the Nzimande proposal.

I celebrate the idea as it promotes Afro-centricism. Hopefully, we can start thinking of introducing an African language as the medium of instruction for the next generation of children. This would unlock great potential in the majority of South African citizens."

Ian Sieborger, a lecturer in Rhodes University's English language and linguistics department, speaking in his personal capacity, said he had mixed feelings on the matter.

"We should create a culture in which African languages are used more in official and institutional contexts, including universities. However, I think that universities should not be made to make up for the failings of our country's basic education system in teaching African languages," he said.

By Lindsey May and Anna Perold

Published in The Herald, Thursday April 7, 2011 (p. 6).