Cape Town - Experts have weighed in on Europe's largest airline Ryanair’s controversial decision requiring South Africans to pass an Afrikaans test in order to travel to the UK, saying the move bordered on racism.
Officials at the Dublin-based airline say they are using the test to avoid transporting passengers to the UK on fake passports.
But some South Africans have criticised the policy, saying that the nation officially recognises 11 languages and that many in the country do not speak Afrikaans.
The UK High Commission in South Africa tweeted on Friday that the test “is not a UK Government requirement”.
The airline does not operate flights to South Africa.
South African language authorities have also denounced the questionnaire.
Anne-Maria Makhulu, an associate professor of cultural anthropology and African and African American studies at Duke University weighed in on the matter, saying: “I think that there’s language politics here, and that that language politics is insensitive to what underlies it, which is race politics”.
The fact that Zulu is more widely spoken in the country also highlights the implications of the test, she said.
“There’s a latent assumption there about what represents South African authenticity,” she said.
But Ryanair has remained unmoved, saying the Afrikaans test helps the company protect itself from transporting people who use fake passports.
“The South African government has already warned passengers (and airlines) of the risk of syndicates selling fake SA passports, which has substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the UK. In order to minimise the risk of fake passport usage, Ryanair requires passengers on a South African passport to fill out a simple questionnaire in the Afrikaans language.”
If passengers cannot complete it, they will not be permitted to travel and will be issued a refund, the statement said.
Andries W. Coetzee, a professor of linguistics and the director of the African Studies Centre at the University of Michigan, said it made no sense to use Afrikaans as a measurement of whether someone was South African or not.
“If you are a Black citizen of South Africa who came of age and went to school after 1994, chances are that you don’t know Afrikaans because you don’t have to know Afrikaans,” Coetzee said.
He called Ryanair’s policy “colonial, discriminatory and just unjustified.”