Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa's Human Rights Day address at the site of one of apartheid's most brutal massacres focused on promoting indigenous and marginalised languages.
The president was speaking on Thursday inside a packed makeshift hall adjacent the renowned George Thabe Stadium in the Gauteng township of Sharpeville, which commemorated 59 years since the egregious killing of 69 people and wounding of hundreds of other innocent protesters, who were demonstrating against the repressive apartheid regime.
Explaining that the UN had declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, Ramaphosa touted the government's efforts and achievements in advancing the country's native tongues after, the president added, they were almost "obliterated" by successive oppressive rulers through colonialism and apartheid.
Speaking in at least four different native languages, Ramaphosa asserted that "language was a fundamental part in building human rights".
"Remember when they (oppressors) wanted Afrikaans to be the dominant language in the land? We said to them: 'Yes, we have no issues with the language of Afrikaans. But don't kill our languages,'" Ramaphosa said, speaking in Sesotho.
Ramaphosa added that the focus on native tongues was the affirmation of "the dignity, worth and humanity of every South African".
"It is said that when a language dies, a way of understanding the world dies with it. The aim of this year’s celebration, therefore, is to highlight efforts to conserve languages that are in danger of becoming extinct.
"The Nama language of the Khoisan people is now being taught in primary schools in the Northern Cape, and a language rule book is being finalised by the Pan South African Language Board," he said.
The Sharpeville commemorations form part the events of March 21, 1960, when the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania - led by its leader Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe - marched to police stations in the township and the Cape Town township of Langa to hand themselves over for defying the law that blacks had to carry pass-books to move around.IOL