South Africa is an incredibly diverse country, with 11 official languages and dozens of distinct ethnic groups. Zulu is the mother tongue for approximately 23 percent of South Africa’s population, but is spoken by about 80 percent of the population of the province of KwaZulu-Natal.
As a legacy of the apartheid era, much of South African education takes place in English, particularly at the university level. But even at the primary school level, UKZN Vice-Chancellor Renuka Vithal noted that, “You can come through the schooling system without learning any of the indigenous African languages. It is surprising that this is still the case, nearly 20 years after apartheid [racially-enforced segregation] ended.”
The language question in South Africa, as in many other developing countries, is closely tied to the question of national identity. While Zulu is the most common mother tongue in South Africa, Xhosa (16%), Afrikaans (14%), English (10%), Sepedi (9%), Setswana (8%), and Sesotho (8%) are also widely spoken.
Because the postcolonial boundaries often amalgamated a wide variety of national groups, boundaries between the nation and the state rarely corresponded. Postcolonial governments thus faced a challenge of developing a common sense of identity across a variety of national and ethnic groups. This was often referred to as nation-building. But national identity cents on a wide variety of variables: religious beliefs, traditions, and customs, shared history, a common language, and so on.
While UKZN’s move was welcomed by some, others argued that the move was just a political ploy to garner the favor of South African President Jacob Zuma, who is Zulu.
What do you think? Is the kind of common language education being imposed by UKZN necessary for nation-building in South Africa? Or does it violate the rights and freedom of students to chart their own course of study? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.