It is unsettling that 24 years into democracy we are still debating whether indigenous linguistic communities should be given the same platform as the previously and still advantaged languages, namely English and Afrikaans. File picture: Adrian de Kock/Independent Media Archives
Language - indigenous languages in particular in South Africa has always been a very sticky issue.

It is unsettling that 24 years into democracy we are still debating whether indigenous linguistic communities should be given the same platform as the previously and still advantaged languages, namely English and Afrikaans.

The marginalised indigenous linguistic communities continue feeling the pressure to assimilate and adapt to linguistic cultures and identities that contrast with who they are.The use of indigenous languages at four or five radio stations and the provision of subtitles for some TV programmes are far from the actual realisation of multilingualism.

TV channels that are assigned to indigenous languages have almost 30% of programmes that are presented in pure indigenous languages - the rest are still in English.

The few indigenous newspapers that are around are known to only a few. If the system was indeed in support of these initiatives then these newspapers, written in indigenous languages, would be made available regularly all over the country. The journalists and editors must also be acknowledged and given all the support they deserve.

According to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1993: “(1) Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, siSwati, Xitsonga, Setswana, Tshivenda, isiXhosa and isiZulu shall be the official South African languages at national level, and conditions shall be created for their development and for the promotion of their equal use and enjoyment.”

In continues, “(9) Legislation, as well as official policy and practice, in relation to the use of languages at any level of government shall be subject to and based on the provisions of this section and the following principles:

* The creation of conditions for the development and for the promotion of the equal use and enjoyment of all official South African languages;

* The extension of those rights relating to language and the status of languages which at the commencement of this Constitution are restricted to certain regions;

* The prevention of the use of any language for the purposes of exploitation, domination or division;

* The promotion of multilingualism and the provision of translation facilities."

There has been reluctance from those meant to uphold the Constitution to spell out exactly what is expected of the custodians of these indigenous languages.

Somehow pupils from African indigenous communities have to learn Afrikaans as their First Additional Language with English being made their mother-tongue language, by default.

It is equally sad that even those schools that have decided to introduce isiXhosa in their curriculum have only one isiXhosa teacher for the entire Foundation Phase, where each Grade has a minimum of three classes.

It is obvious then that the isiXhosa teacher will not cope in such an environment and is deliberately set up to fail.

The Use of Official Languages Act, of 2012, provides for the establishment of language units in national departments, national public entities and national public enterprises. I want to believe that the call also extends to all institutions of learning.

The marginalisation of indigenous languages and cultures did not begin and end with the dawn of colonialism and democracy, but it is more of a socio-linguistic generational curse and part of a vicious cycle.

The first Pioneers of Xhosa Literature lecture was held in the Library Auditorium at UWCon Wednesday.

Mokapela is a senior lecturer in the Department of Xhosa at the University of Western Cape.