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Taal | Language > isiXhosa

Report: XhosAfrika Conference held in Cape Town

Mhlobo Jadezweni - 2011-09-23

The conference was organised by the network group named XhosAfrika. The network comprises organisations concerned with language, hence the theme, Ulwimi lwam iqhayiya lam / My taal my trots / My language my pride. The aim of the conference was to introduce the network to all the participants while focusing on isiXhosa.

Die Burger, SBA (Stigting vir Bemagtiging deur Afrikaans), PanSALB, Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Radio UMhlobo Wenene, André van der Walt of Stellenbosch, etc, are among those who gave support to the conference.

Neville Alexander

The day was broken up into four sessions, with each session dedicated to a main speaker followed by respondents. This report does not give a session by session account; instead, an attempt is made to capture everything covered during the day in as inclusive a way as possible. Where necessary, special mention is made of the presenter’s name and an account of what he/she said.

The day kicked off with Neville Alexander of PRAESA of the University of Cape Town who gave his address after a brief welcoming by Marlene le Roux and Nomfundo Mali. Both Marlene and Nomfundo stressed the importance of the collaboration between isiXhosa and Afrikaans. They also mentioned that the status of isiXhosa in the Western Cape is a great concern among speakers and language practitioners.

Alexander lauded the initiative, ie the XhosAfrika conference, and pointed out its symbolic nature in the country and on the African continent as a whole. It was symbolic in that it could attract different language organisations and practitioners. He expressed his unequivocal support for the initiative and expressed his disappointment of not seeing any representative of the national Department of Arts and Culture among the guests. This was noted as a great disappointment for the conference.

Alexander sketched out the world scenario with regard to language endangerment. He cautioned that unless the speakers of the threatened languages do something about it, many languages of the world will soon disappear. He cited the case of natural disasters, when many people die, and thus die with their languages. Speakers and government have got to prevent this from happening.

He commended the African Union for recognising ACALAN (Academy of African Languages), saying this was the most significant decision by the AU. The recognition of ACALAN by the African Union is a major achievement for African languages because it shows the commitment of the African Union to develop African languages.

According to Alexander the post-1994 period in South Africa is not what was expected with regard to language issues. Of course, with multilingualism great strides have been made. He cited the language bill, which has not made enough progress. This is a great disappointment for language practitioners and the speakers of the South African languages. It is clear that government is not doing enough to make good progress with language, therefore the speakers of the languages must take the initiative to get their languages respected.

Sandile Gxilishe

Recommendations by Blade Nzimande to get all the students at tertiary institutions to study an African language are highly laudable.

Sindiwe Magona made it clear that the speakers of African languages, of isiXhosa in particular, have got to liberate themselves from the notion that someone else, like government, will do something in order for the language to be recognised as an official language. She emphasised the importance of using the language at all times at all places. Her call was echoed by most speakers. There was a strong emphasis on the promotion of isiXhosa among speakers and non-speakers in the Western Cape and elsewhere in the country.

It was noted with great sadness that the language transformation plan had been dropped by the Western Cape Education Department. This is in spite of its having been piloted at certain schools in the province. Those schools are still in the dark as to what they are going to do with regard to the language of learning and teaching, as they had already adopted the mother-tongue-based approach. This is a big challenge facing the parents and the schools concerned, as they do not know what to do next.

Representatives from newspapers and from various other fields, including the planetarium, expressed the need to use isiXhosa instead of English when dealing with specialised fields like the natural sciences, economics and other fields. They proposed that terminology be developed and its development be co-ordinated in order to avoid duplication.

The challenges identified were mainly the negative language attitudes of the speakers of isiXhosa and lack of financial support from government for languages in general. The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) was criticised for not being effective in language awareness campaigns.

Book clubs must be established among the communities in order to develop the culture of reading. This proposal was raised mainly by Angie Netshiheni of PanSALB, with Xolisa Guzula of PRAESA sharing their experiences with reading clubs they have established in Cape Town. She feels very strongly that this is the route to go in order to promote the culture of reading and thus enhance the status of isiXhosa.

The day closed with a gruelling session of resolutions. This part of the conference was the hardest to control, as the majority of the participants were very eager to give a resolution or have something to say to whatever resolution had been put forward. Conference felt very strongly that a delegation should be sent to the Western Cape Education Department to get more information on the dropping of the language transformation plan. This was supported fully by all the delegates. That all communication in government departments must be in the three official languages at all times was another highly emotional resolution made. The XhosAfrika committee was mandated to ensure that the resolutions are carried out.

The number of delegates present, which exceeded the 300 who had registered, was a clear indication of the support for the XhosAfrika initiative. The high level of debate during conference also affirmed the support. Those attending came from very diverse backgrounds and areas in the Western Cape. School children also attended.

This was a historic event indeed which will definitely get the languages and people of the Western Cape closer together. This people-driven language conference is bound to yield results. XhosAfrika should just press on.