African Languages, Development and the State

By Richard Fardon; Graham Furniss | Go to book overview

8

Language and the struggle for racial equality in the development of a non-racial Southern African nation

Jean Benjamin

Language is a tool for communication. It is the medium through which thoughts, values, attitudes, are transmitted within and between cultural groups. It is also an index of group and class categorization and identification, a tool for group mobilization, a medium for expressing and assessing knowledge and a tool for gaining access to class mobility. In South Africa the communicative function of language has been obscured by the tendency of those in power to use language as means to maintain relations of dominance of Whites over Blacks. In what follows, ‘Black’ is used as a collective term for all those who are not White South Africans. Where necessary, for instance when discussing the effects of Apartheid, reference will be made to ‘Coloureds’, ‘Indians’ and ‘Africans’.

Apartheid language policy and planning functioned to exclude African languages from official status within South Africa. Language played a major role in the division of the society into racial and tribal groupings. Further, the low status afforded African languages and the unavailability of these as school subjects in White, Coloured and Indian schools severely affected the motivation of these groups to learn African languages. Mother tongue education ensured that English- and Afrikaans-speaking Whites would be equipped to participate in the national system; it served the opposite purpose for Africans. Whites benefited directly from this Anglo-European national culture, while it supplemented Apartheid legislation to prevent the integration of the Black population into the South African nation. The Afrikaner nationalists further appropriated Afrikaans and used it to promote their own nationalist identity; thus Afrikaans became stigmatized as the language of the oppressor amongst Africans. Resources were allocated for the development of Afrikaans to enable it to compete effectively with English on a technical level. The development of African languages was limited to the promotion of traditional ethnic identities subject to the control of Afrikaner officials who sat on language boards. Initially, the Apartheid government denied Africans access to English for fear of

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