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Slow development of African languages at South African universities a concern

Date Released: Fri, 23 November 2012 15:17 +0200

The South African Department of Higher Education and Training says it remains concerned at the slow development of African languages in the country's universities and has set up a Ministerial Advisory Panel to look into the issue.

The panel will undertake a broad review of the obstacles facing the implementation of effective language policies and practices at institutions of higher education and training, said Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande, at the University of Stellenbosch African Languages Day here on Thursday.

"This panel will submit its report in June next year with the expectation that based on the terms of reference, such a report will provide concrete recommendations and proposals on interventions to be made to speed up the development of African languages within higher education institutions," said Nzimande.

The minister said the development of African languages was tied to social justice which was an indispensable element of nation-building and the promotion of social cohesion in the country.

"It stands to reason that we cannot effectively preserve and promote the cultures and histories of our peoples if we do not pay special attention to the development of their languages. In other words, the best route to preserve peoples' cultures is to start with their languages," Nzimande said.

Speaking under the day's theme of "The role of African Languages in a 21st Century Education", the minister added that the development of languages was a result of concerted human effort and commitment rather than something that happened on its own.

South Africa was at a stage of its democracy when citizens should be taking stock of the progress the country has made in the development of languages and not debate whether or not it was practical or viable to affirm the value of African languages.

"We are past the stages of debate. Eighteen years into our democracy, we should be past the stage where we are still surprised by so few dissertations written or research conducted in any of our indigenous languages," Nzimande said.

He pointed out that while English had developed as an international language of commonality globally, many advanced countries used their own languages as languages of teaching, learning and scholarship. He cited as examples the French, German, Japanese and Spanish languages.

"The barrier is when languages are not developed as languages of scholarship," said the minister.