15 JUNE, 2022
Chairperson of the PanSALB Board, Prof Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst;
PanSALB Chief Executive Officer, Mr Lance Schultz;
Ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you for the invitation to come and address you on this prestigious occasion- the PanSalb Multilingualism Awards.
As I understand it, through this award, the Pan South African Language Board (PanSalb) seeks to promote and recognise exceptional work in the promotion of all official and other South African languages.
PanSalb also seeks to broadcast the importance of multilingualism in South Africa; enhance the use of all official languages and raise awareness on the role of languages in general as a uniting agent to the people in our country and fostering a climate of equitable language practice.
These awards take place at the same time when we as a country are commemorating the epoch shaping moment commonly referred to as the June 16 uprising. A moment that is significant in a number of respects for our quest to construct a free and humane post-colonial society.
The June 16 Uprising reminds us how central the issue of language was to the project of colonialism. The Kenyan writer and thinker, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o illuminates this point when he observers that “In colonial conquest, language did to the mind what the sword did to the bodies of the colonised”.
Drawing from Ngugi’s observation, it becomes clear that, in the construction of post-colonial societies language cannot simply be reduced to a matter of culture, identity or even policy.
In the construction of post-colonial societies, language is actually a matter of being and for this reason, in the South Africa of today, the issue of language and multilingualism must be pursued in the broader context of the project of decolonisation.
Therefore, in our pursuit to promote multilingualism today, we must also remain vigilant and understand that, even after the declaration of independence, colonialism has a way in which in mutates and persists in new forms.
Something which decolonial scholars refer to as the coloniality of power. By the persistence of coloniality, I refer to the fact that there are still a number of institutions in our country that continue to undermine indigenous languages and seek to impose English and other languages on native language speakers.
With this, we also see the persistence of the undermining of the cultural practices that are connected to indigenous languages. This is particularly prevalent in some of our schools and higher learning institutions and we have had a number of instances where students have protested against this.
In response, as a Department we have developed a language policy for higher education institutions and set up a Ministerial Panel on African languages. Admittedly, these policy and regulatory interventions by themselves are not enough and will have to be reinforced in other ways.
The other phenomenon we must pay attention to is the resurgence of apartheid and other colonial symbols, under the pretext of preserving certain cultures. This is arguably one of the biggest threats to the building a climate of equitable language practice.
We have also seen enough evidence that those who seek to maintain the hegemony of particular languages or symbols, are prepared to do whatever they can to maintain their dominance, including using the very judicial institutions that are a product of our fight for democracy and freedom.
We must therefore accept that, the promotion of multilingualism will be characterised by the conflicts and tendencies that defined our divided past.
But also, we cannot run away from the fact that, indigenous languages are the languages of South Africa’s African majority and the fact they continue to be structurally marginalised, is a monumental injustice that we must confront.
The structural exclusion of a particular language also implies the exclusion of the culture of a particular group, but also the exclusion of members of that group from key social and economic institutions and opportunities.
Ladies and gentlemen, the achievement of multilingualism and a climate of equitable language practice, will require much more than declarations, policies and regulations.
It will also require that, we as decision-makers in public institutions be prepared to take bold and imaginative actions.
Actions that will be anchored on the understanding that, our failure to take bold and imaginative action today, may result in a situation where future generations will spit on our graves, for failing them.
In conclusion, I wish to acknowledge and congratulate all the writers, musicians, poets, storytellers and institutions who will be honoured here tonight for their role in promoting indigenous languages and multilingualism.
Thank you for your attention.