The Germanic Mosaic: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Society

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview

18
Language Policy for a Postapartheid South Africa: Models and Questions

GUDRUN OBERPRIELER


INTRODUCTION

In his opening speech to the new parliamentary session on February 1, 1991, South African State President F. W. de Klerk committed the government among other things to "the creation of an equitable social system in South Africa," to the elimination of "all discrimination between groups of people or between individuals," to the repeal of 'discriminatory legislation' and to the establishment of "just and equitable educational systems, accessible to all" ( The Star Newspaper, February 1, 1991: 2).

After more than forty years of legislation aimed precisely at separating and dividing the peoples of South Africa, this new wind which has been blowing through National Party politics since about September 1989, seems indeed to be the wind of change. Yet no one can have any doubts that the path toward an equitable and nondiscriminatory society will be a very long and thorny one. It is not only the deep wounds of apartheid that have to be healed. The South African society is naturally and historically characterized by a vast diversity of cultures and languages that will not be easily reconciled. The following facts may illustrate this: the 1980 census data (see table at the end of this chapter) show that there are at least 10 African, 8 European, and 6 Oriental languages spoken within a population of about 25 million. Of these 24 languages, 7 are spoken by more than 1 million speakers as their home language, and 17 are the home languages of minority groups ( Alexander, 1989a: 7).

Language has been an important factor in the history of South Africa for the better part of the last 350 years, and it was a major tool of the National Party in shaping apartheid in South Africa. Now that far-reaching changes in all spheres of social and political life are imminent, one of the focal points of political parties and academics in the linguistic field is once again the language question. There is much evidence that the debate is widening: in the last two

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