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Woman of Science awarded to PHD Student in African Languages Zakeera Docrat: An interview

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Ms. Zakeera Docrat
Ms. Zakeera Docrat

 Interview with Ms. Zakeera Docrat, PHD student in African Languages, that has won the 2018 South African Women in Science Award Winner: Albertina Sisulu DST Doctoral Fellowship, the 2018 African Languages Association of Southern Africa Award: Most Outstanding MA Thesis in Southern Africa, in the area of African languages and the 2018 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans.

Q: Tell me, how were you first exposed to multilingualism at home? And how did this transpire ?

A: It started all the way back when I was a little girl. I grow up in a home where my parents were
conversant in IsiXhosa, English and Afrikaans, as a child I grew up in my mother’s business and 90%
of her customers were isiXhosa mother tongue speakers. They would come to her shop and speak to
me in Xhosa and I would respond. That is were it started, it was a relay encouragement. For me what
it was right from the beginning, it was actually seeing someone’s face light up when you respond to
them in their own language and you not a mother tongue speaker yourself, I think that’s a priceless
gift that nobody can never buy. That is how it started and obviously I did it at school. In grade 10 I
chose it as one of my matric subjects, right through grade 12, I matriculated with it. I then came to
Rhodes and registered for Xhosa, I did it as undergrad major, cause I was always afraid, I taught to
myself how can I ever let Xhosa go? Yes I love the law don’t get me wrong, but you cant let a passion
go. For me it was how do you combine passion and a love. I found a way to build a relationship
between language and law, and it was actually great that I found the department and the supervisor
who share this passion and willing to take on this new research area.

Q: Aside from Xhosa, is it just English that you speak, do you speak other languages?

A: No, I do speak Afrikaans, I am conversant in it, but not as fluent as I am in isiXhosa.

Q: When did you realise the actual act of speaking multiple languages?

A: I think it was when I reached university, it was always emphasised at school that the more
languages you speak the more 2: 55, you contribute towards social cohesion in the country, but
when I got to university level you actually deal with real life issues, in cases, you seeing injustice that
really occur in legal system, while people are reading about it. People being imprisoned for years and
years because of the language barrier. I think that is where it started.

Q: What was your work with the language committee, with topics of multilingualism, what did that
teach you throughout the years?

A: The language committee, I was actually writing an essay in my third year, and I emailed Prof
Kaschula and asked where is Rhodes language policy, do you have one? He responded and say yes
we do and we in the process of revising it actually. Perhaps you can make an enquiry on how you
can be a student nominee. So we went through the hoops and were approached the SRC, I got to be
on the committee and I represented the students voice. But what is important at the committee at
that level is to finally see the integration of student voice into that committee and the importance
that the committee plays in the university promoting and advocating for the use of all the provincial
languages in the province. Not just English as the language of teaching and learning and also isiXhosa
and Afrikaans along those languages. And how languages can be used in inclusive manner in a
multilingual space to actually enrich student’s mind and allow them to contribute.

Q: Your research deals with law and forensic linguistics I believe, but in African languages obviously,
explain briefly your current research

A: My PhD research looks specifically at the language of record and it critic the resent decision to
make English the sole official language of record in South African courts by doing so I am
investigating whether university language polices actually impact the determination of language of
record. So I will be graduating monolingual English mother tongue lawyers from universities and feeding them into a system were 98% of population are not English mother tongue speakers. So there is a key disjuncture, so we need to have a transformed space at university and in the legal system co-currently. And in order for that to happen we need language policies at universities to foster linguistic transformation that will feed into the legal system were we can have policies there that gives meaning to people’s lives in trials, so it’s the process that needs to be started and 6: 12, we can’t expect that today we implement it and tomorrow everybody can speak African language, that is not what we need to do. It must be incremented process and in the next 10 to 20 years we are multilingual individuals and also to say that language is not associated with the race, so if I am Indian, which I am, I can speak an African language and the other person should be able to speak African language or the language spoken by majority in the province. That is social justice.

Q: in light of your research, what made you apply for the award of women science award?

A: Well the women science award was a nomination process, it was half nomination and half
application if you will, so for years and years as a student particularly from honours I used to read
women in science recipients research in the mail and guardian newspaper in which it was published.
I looked and them and think wow, I wish I can be those women one day. I looked at the criteria and
said let me give it a short, I have nothing to lose and its not really about me, its about placing African
languages and languages more importantly on a global national stage and let me see if African
languages can be finally recognised by the government. That is what is most important about the
award, it is not about me. its about African languages being recognised nationally at the highest
level.

Q: and how do you feel about how the word science is actually being applied to your field?

A: Well, that is another thing because I was in the social science and humanities category, but its so
nice that humanities are recognised as part of science because in a way we are contributing to
science, science really is knowledge, knowledge dissemination. Language includes language as well,
science is everywhere.

Q: What would you like to say to inspire other humanities students like yourself?

A: I think you need to identify research area that you passionate about, you need to be passionate
about what you doing. You need to make sure that your research makes a difference and
contributes to society. Research has to make a difference in my opinion, whether you difference to
one person, or thousand or a billion, it does not matter, as long as your research affect somebody or
something.

Q: and what are your running projects at the moment aside from your PhD?

A: Aside from my PhD, I just started a new language and law course offered in African languages
section to the honours students and that has been well received. Currently I am also organising first
language and law colloquium at Rhodes University which will draw on number of leading scholars in
the field who will come and share their insights and hopefully we will be able to discuss a way
forward to propose to the legal system.