South Africa pleads for the use of indigenous languages

August 2003 -

The annual Congress of the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) was held in Durban, South Africa at the beginning of July. Participants from different countries focussed on the question of how rural children can get access to reading material. Conclusion: school libraries must offer texts on line and reading materials must appear in indigenous languages.

Thami Mseleku, a high-level South African civil servant in the area of education, again emphasised that illiteracy can only be combated if children can read in their own language. That is also the conclusion of the UN Commission for Indigenous Populations that met in Geneva during the last week of July.

Education in indigenous languages in South Africa is a hot item. The country has had twelve official languages since 1994, but English and Afrikaans are the preferred languages in all sorts of domains. T.A.L.K. (Transfer of African Language Knowledge) is an organisation that is campaigning strongly for the spread of the other eleven languages, such as Zulu. The language courses that the foundation offers have turned out to be unexpectedly successful among companies in Durban. Employees who follow such courses in turn teach Zulu to their colleagues. This helps bridge the gap between the different population groups on the work floor.