Comments by PEN Afrikaans on the
Revised Language Policy for Higher Education of 2017
Submitted for the attention of Mr Mahlubi Mabizela
(Chief Director: University Policy and Development
Department: Higher Education and Training)
PEN Afrikaans is an authors’ association that promotes freedom of expression and serves the interests of authors, but also strives for equal language rights in a multilingual context. Against the background of an active interest in language rights, PEN Afrikaans accepts the invitation to submit written commentary on the draft Revised Language Policy for Higher Education (“the Revised Policy”), published in the Government Gazette No. 41463 of 23 February 2018, and herewith submits its comments.
PEN Afrikaans fully supports the intention formulated in the preamble to the policy statement, namely to promote multilingualism as a strategy to facilitate meaningful access and participation by everyone in the various university activities and in cognitive and intellectual development. PEN Afrikaans is convinced that South Africa’s linguistic diversity needs to be safeguarded and nurtured. Given their social and economic significance, universities are ideal institutions to contribute to this imperative. Universities function as producers of knowledgeable and engaged citizens, as well as research that will lead to economic and intellectual growth.
A disinclination to promote multilingualism at university level has perplexed commentators, language activists and the general public for years. PEN Afrikaans welcomes the proposed shift from this reluctance towards a hands-on approach to fostering the official South African languages proposed in the Revised Policy. We hope that the new policy will be implemented without delay or reservation, and with due regard to the demographics of the university in question.
Specific instructions on what will be expected from universities, as well as practical measures to enable multilingualism and grow our language economy, such as translation and interpreting services, appointment of suitable staff, preparation of subject terminology dictionaries, and the provision of special funds for language promotion, are to be encouraged in order to expedite implementation of this commendable language policy.
According to Section 27(2) of the Higher Education Act (no. 101 of 1997), the language policies of individual institutions are subject to, and therefore must comply with, the Language Policy promulgated by the Minister. If it is a legally binding instrument, there should not be room for construing the provisions of this Revised Policy as mere advice or guidelines. In order to ensure enforcement, PEN Afrikaans would recommend that the wording of the purpose of the Revised Policy in 13.1. be reworked to replace the word “guide” with “instruct”.
PEN Afrikaans welcomes the recognition of Afrikaans as an official indigenous language of South Africa, as well as the intention of the Revised Policy “to address the challenge of underdevelopment and underutilisation of indigenous official South African languages in higher education, whilst also sustaining the standard and utilisation of languages that have already progressed.” We would suggest that languages that have progressed should not only be sustained in their current standard and utilisation, but also be cultivated as evolving languages of communication, instruction, scholarship, teaching and learning. Having progressed to a certain level should serve as a basis for further development. With the utilisation of Afrikaans having been severely limited at many tertiary education institutions, we feel that the current level of utilisation should be extended, not sustained.
An integrated and collaborative approach is called for in the Revised Policy. PEN Afrikaans encourages the Department of Higher Education and Training to pursue its proposed collaboration with the Department of Basic Education to ensure that the promotion and use of indigenous languages becomes the norm across the educational spectrum.
The value of mother tongue education has been proven again and again. Moreover, language is not only a medium of education, but is closely linked to personal and cultural identity, as well as social justice and cohesion. A guiding principle of the Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights, an initiative of the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee of PEN International, states that different languages and different ways of speaking are not only means of communication; they are also the milieu in which humans grow and cultures are built.
PEN Afrikaans wishes to applaud the Department of Higher Education and Training for the great strides it has taken towards promotion of South Africa’s indigenous languages through the Revised Policy. We are hopeful that this will not remain a statement of intent but will be properly implemented on a tertiary level and that close cooperation with the Department of Basic Education will be pursued.