Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

White S. Africans Studying Zulu New Government Offers Residents 11 Official Languages

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

White S. Africans Studying Zulu New Government Offers Residents 11 Official Languages

Article excerpt

"Sawubona, unjani" is a standard greeting among Zulus, but hearing it from Shelley Kuypers is a shock.

"It's going to be a new South Africa," explained Kuypers, who lives in a white suburb, usually speaks Afrikaans and, until recently, rarely talked with her black maid.

"With the schools being mixed now and the workplace being confronted with affirmative action programs, we can no longer sit back and expect everyone to speak Afrikaans or English," said Kuypers, a student at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The university has offered African languages since the 1970s, but registration picked up only as the end of white-minority rule approached.

"In prior years, it was difficult to get 11 people interested in the class," said Molly Orr, director of the African-language program. "But this year, we've had to turn people away."

Although the university also offers Xhosa, Sotho and other African tongues, Zulu is the most popular because of its widespread use. Zulu or one of its dialects is the mother tongue of 10 million of the 40 million South Africans.

Language has been one of the most contentious issues in South Africa. In 1976, black students in Soweto protested being taught in Afrikaans, which they viewed as the language of white oppressors. The protests spread through the country and drew world attention to the struggle against apartheid.

The new South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans and English.

Government documents will be printed in each, and Parliament will have a translation service for those who choose to speak in their tribal languages, but the effect on everyday life is expected to be minimal.

Schooling and business will be conducted in the language most commonly used in a particular region, for example, and street signs probably will not change.

Making the African languages official is important symbolically, giving them a status once accorded only the languages of whites. …

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