President Cyril Ramaphosa joins Ms Katrina Esau , one of the last remaining Nluu indigenous languages speakers, leading a reading session where Jamilia Mathys, Waltrud Hifikau, Alulutho Ndzunga and Naledi Modibedi were part of the President's Reading Circle on the occasion of the opening of the Sandile Present Community Library on National Heritage Day in Upington. Photo: GCIS.

PRETORIA - As South Africa celebrated Heritage Day on Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said all languages spoken in South Africa should be treated equally.

"There is no language in this country that is superior to another. Ahuna luambo fhano Afrika Tshipembe lune lwa vha lwa ndeme u fhira dzinwe nyambo. There is no language we can say belongs to the past and must stay there. Daar is geen taal in ons land wat ons kan sê is ‘n taal uit ons verlede en wat in ons gelede gelaat moet word nie," Ramaphosa said while speaking at the official Heritage Day celebrations at the Mxolisi Dicky Jacobs Stadium in Upington.

"Vandag omhels en beoefen ons alle tale wat bydra tot die diversiteit van ons nasie. Every single language spoken in this country has equal value and equal worth. Puo enngwe le enngwe ya naha ya rona, e loketse hlompho ka ho lekana."

Ramaphosa said during colonialism and apartheid, African languages were degraded and denigrated, and the languages of the Khoi and San people were marginalised. 

"This was part of a deliberate attempt to alienate our communities from their history, culture and traditions. This government is doing everything within its means to promote and preserve all our languages, but most especially the languages of the people of the Northern Cape that are dying out such as N|uu, Nama, !Xun and Khwe," he said.

"We are working to restore the collective pride of our people. The Northern Cape is home to the only radio station in the entire world that broadcasts in the indigenous languages of the San community. X-K FM is so successful, I am told, that broadcasters from Namibia recently visited to get training on how to start an online radio station for their own indigenous communities back home."

He also noted that the Nama language is being taught in primary schools for the first time in the Northern Cape.

"Next year five students from this province will be trained as Nama educators at the University of Namibia. I want to congratulate the government of the Northern Cape for these significant achievements," said Ramaphosa. 

"Around the country there are efforts underway to promote indigenous languages and multilingualism through the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities and the Pan South African Language Board."

Ramaphosa said the government is working with institutions of higher learning to develop lexicography and terminology development units, and offer bursary schemes to students wanting to major in African languages. 

"We are actively working to make sure African languages are offered in all of our schools. Over the last few years, we have reduced the number of public schools that do not teach an African language from 2,500 schools to just over 460. 

By the end of next year, we are aiming to ensure that all of South Africa’s 23,000 public schools offer an African language," said Ramaphosa.

"Our Parliament has also been asked to elevate Sign Language to the status of an official language. This morning I saw first-hand the eagerness of the learners who read to me in N|uu and Nama at the new community library. As part of Heritage Month, we are promoting a greater culture of reading and of appreciation of literary texts in indigenous languages."

He said more than half a million copies of classical texts in indigenous languages have been distributed to various public libraries, school libraries, resource centres and university libraries as part of the Reprint of South African Classics programme. 

Heritage Day annually celebrates the rich array of cultural communities and assets, natural wonders and religious communities that constitute South Africa’s diversity.

The 2019 National Heritage Day celebrations was hosted by the Northern Cape province under the theme “Celebrating South Africa’s literacy classics in the year of indigenous languages”. 

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

African News Agency