Event: Multilingualism conference
Date: 16 November 2022
Representative of Hon N. Mthethwa, Minister of Arts and Culture of the Republic of South Africa,
Prof. Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst, Chairperson of the Board of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB),
Mr. Julius Dantile: PanSALB Executive Head Language,
Mr. Lance Schultz: PanSALB CEO,
Ms Gugu Ntuli: Group Executive Corporate Affairs and Marketing, SABC,
Mr Mabutho Sithole. ILIFA,
Dr Steenkamp, Indigenous Languages Action Forum,
Ladies and gentlemen
It is an immense pleasure for me to participate in this language conference on the theme, “The Furtherance of Multilingualism in South Africa for an equitable future.”
On behalf of Her Excellency, Amb. Minata Samate Sessouma, Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development of the African Union Commission, I congratulate and thank PanSALB for the efforts it is making to empower South African languages and therefore African languages and to encourage and promote multilingualism in the nation.
The objective of this very important conference amongst others, is to discuss on the implementation of multilingualism in the country since the advent of its Constitutional democracy, what has been done, what remains to be done, to be able to surmount difficulties, . This goes in line with the basic PanSALB mandate, which is to Develop the 11 official langauages, and promote multilingualism in South Africa.
Likewise the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), as the African Union’s specialised language agency has been entrusted with the task to work Member States of the African Union to develop and promote African languages as a means of fostering continental integration and development, by encouraging the formulation and establishment of vigorous and articulated language policies and the sharing of experiences in policy-making and implementation in the Member States, as a means of using African languages in a wider range of domains. In doing so, ACALAN establishes language commissions to develop and promote African languages, notably Vehicular Cross-border Languages, on the basis that the development and promotion of African languages in a conducive atmosphere of convivial and functional multilingualism will serve to forge the linguistic and cultural unity of Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Multilingualism is a reality in Africa because the national boundaries of African countries were drawn arbitrarily by the colonial powers during the time of the partition of African paying no regard to the historical, cultural and linguistic affinity of Africans, thus creating extremely mixed populations and a very complex and varied language situation. Distinct ethnic groups became assembled in European colonies while other ethnic groups found themselves divided by newly established artificial borders and were separated into two or more territories administered by different colonial powers. The colonisers externally imposed arbitrary borders creating extremely mixed populations.
Post independent African governments faced the dilemma on how to bring together different ethno-linguistic groups and how to build in heavily multilingual and multi-ethnic states inherited from the colonialism.
Africa is the most multilingual continent in the world and there are very few countries with more than 90 per cent ethnic and linguistic homogeneity of population, where one African language is spoken by the people as a mother tongue, namely Somalia (Somali), Eswatini (Seswati), Botswana (Setswana), Burundi (Kirundi), Lesotho (Sesotho) and Rwanda (Kinyarwanda). In some other countries one African language is spoken by the vast majority of the population as a lingua franca. Kiswahili in Tanzania, Wolof in Senegal, Bambara in Mali…
This made African governments to continue to depend on ex-colonial metropolitan languages (English, French, Portuguese and Spanish) as languages of administration and in education to the detriment of African languages.
The multilingualism prevailing in most African countries is an asset and essential in that it:
- Ensures that all languages within the boundaries of Member States are recognised and accepted as a source of mutual enrichment;
- Liberates the African peoples from undue reliance on the utilisation of non-African languages;
- Ensures that African languages, by appropriate legal provision and practical promotion, assume their rightful role as the means of communication in the public affairs of Member States;
- Encourages the increased use of African languages as vehicles of instruction at all educational levels;
- Empowers the local community by supporting and deepening community participation through the promotion of the use of African languages.
- Fosters tolerance and respect for others and hence promotes dialogue and peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are living in an in an increasingly complex and multicultural and globalized world, marked by migration, dialogue for peaceful and sustainable solutions. Therefore, multilingualism and linguistic diversity are essential to guaranteeing people their own identity while being able to understand and respect other cultures. Multilingualism opens dialogue between languages, and establishes dialogue between people and promotes peace and sustainable development.
Cross-border (trans-border) languages are languages spoken by a population (a nation or an ethnic group) that lives in a geographical area in two or several internationally recognised countries that have common land or maritime borders.
In an atmosphere of multilingualism, they are a factor of commerce, trade, cooperation and collaboration, peace and solidarity and therefore of integration and development. They have the potential of serving as a model for development, especially if they are widely spoken, because they have a large population to support them, and materials prepared in one country can be shared and used in others. To expand their use should not be difficult once the necessary language development work has been undertaken. A good example of this is Kiswahili with more than 200 million speakers, the majority of which lives on the continent particularly in East and Central Africa, which ACALAN is now promoting as a language of wider communication in Africa.
Ladies and gentlemen
I will take this opportunity to recall that the Heads of State and Government of the Member States of the African Union during the 35th Ordinary Session in February 2022, adopted the Dar es Salam Framework for Action that ACALAN had developed as a collective commitment to action to ensure that Article 25 of the Constitutive Act of the AU (Previously Article 29 of the OAU Charter) is implemented by promoting Kiswahili as a working language of the African Union and a language of wider communication in Africa. The consultative meeting for the East African region in Kigali, Republic of Rwanda on 10 and 11 May 2022 recommended that ACALAN engage in language policies advocacy to ensure all member states develop language policies that give status and valorising functions to African languages and recognise Kiswahili as a language of wider communication in Africa.
ACALAN, launched the African Languages Week in Ouagadougou, in collaboration with the government of Burkina Faso, in July 2021. The launch of the African Languages Week was, in line with its adoption by the Third Specialised Technical Committee on Youth, Culture and Sport of the African Union (STC-YCS3), in October 2018 in Algiers, Algeria, based on a proposal of the Executive Secretariat of the African Academy of Languages.
The African Languages Week is a perpetual rendez-vous and major annual event to be held from 24 to 30 January that should be observed by all member states of the African Union, to commemorate the relevance of African languages and cultures in Africa and the African Diaspora, as a special moment of the African identity. It is a pathway of realising Agenda 2063 of the African Union, specifically Aspiration 5 that promotes “An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics.”
The theme of the inaugural edition of the African Languages Week for the year 2022 was linked to the 2021 theme of the African Union, which was “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want.” Therefore, the theme of the African Languages Week for 2022 was “African Languages: Levers for the Africa We Want.”
Likewise, as part of the recommendations of the preparatory meetings, the theme of the 2023 African Languages Week (ALW) was suggested to be: “African Languages for Sustainable Food Security, Cultural and Socio-economic Development for the Africa We Want” in line with the AU theme for 2022 which is, “Strengthening Resilience in Nutrition and Food Security on the African Continent: Strengthening Agro-Food Systems, Health and Social Protection Systems for the Acceleration of Human, Social and Economic Capital Development.” reflecting on the African Union’s theme for 2022. In the same vein, the slogan for the year 2023 was set as: “What We Speak and What We Eat Makes Africa Great.”
Ladies and gentlemen
Before concluding, I would like to reiterate that multilingualism is key to the mutual enrichment of our languages. It is a factor of dialogue and discipline, peace , progress and prosperity.
I would like to thank PanSALB and the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture of the Republic of South Africa and the entire government and people of South Africa on behalf of H E Amb Minata Samate Cessouma, Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development of the African Union Commission for their remarkable and collective efforts in empowering South African languages in an atmosphere of functional multilingualism. The African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) on behalf of the African Union will collaborate with PanSALB to develop and promote African languages and promote multilingualism on the continent.
Long live the Republic of South Africa
Long live the African Union
African languages, for a peaceful, prosperous, integrated and healthy Africa.