Linguistic Genocide and Impediments to Transformation and Intellectualisation of African Languages was the title of Dean and Head of the School of Arts Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa’s inaugural lecture. She delivered the full lecture in isiZulu.
Hlongwa reviewed progress made in line with the White Paper on the Transformation of Higher Education (DoE 1997) as well as the historical development and current status of indigenous African languages in higher education. She also provided an analysis of obstacles that hinder progress in the intellectualisation of African languages in the South African higher education sector.
Hlongwa argued ‘that African languages have a central role to play in driving the transformation agenda and knowledge production in South African higher education, therefore marginalising these languages leads to disastrous implications for the achievement of social justice and cohesion, and the success of indigenous African language-speaking students.’
Hlongwa also gave a comprehensive review of language practices in higher education in the pre- and post-colonial eras. ‘In rising to all the pertinent challenges, higher education institutions need to consider language management strategies designed to address language problems, particularly in multilingual contexts,’ she said. ‘Denying African learners and educators the opportunity to learn or teach in indigenous African languages amounts to a violation of their Constitutional rights – it also impinges on their academic freedom.’
Negative attitudes towards the use of indigenous African languages as languages of instruction in higher education by mother-tongue speakers of these languages were also identified as a problem.
Hlongwa recommended an increased focus by the current government to ensure the development and implementation of African languages as languages of education. ‘The Department of Higher Education and Training should monitor and evaluate the progress of each institution in terms of compliance. In contemporary South Africa, while ethnicity and language are important to personal identity, they are largely irrelevant to political identity. The country’s history has instead ensured that issues of race and socio-economic status define political behaviour.’
Hlongwa challenged ‘South African universities to provide incentives to students who graduate with their MA or PhD degrees written in African languages. The same should apply to the supervisors. The role of provincial governments in the promotion of language development needs to be revisited.’
She believes that full transformation cannot be achieved without taking indigenous African languages on board. ‘Higher education institutions should embrace indigenous African languages in their teaching and learning, research and community engagement imperatives in order to champion the transformation agenda.’
‘While acknowledging the availability of policy and legislative documents, institutions of higher learning should employ language management strategies that seek to address the language problems associated with the low status of indigenous African languages. We need to guard against linguistic genocide,’ Hlongwa added.
The full isiZulu lecture can be viewed on YouTube here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgmOIi4ZN68