Minister Launches Decade of Indigenous Languages

Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa at the launch of the International Decade Of Indigenous Languages and N|uu language, a language which is at the brink of extinction. 

The national roadmap for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages and the historic Dictionary of the N|uu language, a language which is at the brink of extinction. That African patriot, Nnamdi Azikiwe (who served as the first President of Nigeria), points out that: “… The present is a prophecy of the future.”  He explains that: “when tomorrow comes, may Africans in concert with the rest of humanity march towards the end of the rainbow, singing: “Lord it is Africa, marching with the rest of humanity, realising its heritage.” And may it so happen that the reverberations re-echo, “Africa arise and walk, and realise your destiny. The mission of an African civilization that is to be.”In expressing himself in this manner, Azikiwe was evoking the spirit of the Pan African vision that first brought Africans together in London in 1900 for the first Pan African Congress led by W.E. B Du Bois and Sylvester Henry Williams. He was recalling the wise poetic and prophetic words of Pixley ka Isaka Seme in 1906, who foresaw the “regeneration of Africa.” He had understood the calling of Marcus Garvey and his contribution and those who planted the seeds of Ethiopianism. He was looking forward to the thinking of Frantz Fanon and others like him whose political philosophy and analysis sought to bring a new African into being, one who embraced a different journey and movement forward. Frantz Fanon tells us that:“…If we want humanity to advance a step farther, if we want to bring it up to a different level than that which Europe has shown it, then we must invent and we must make discoveries… For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.” [and new woman].
Program Director: It is in this context that we meet here today to advance the cause of our indigenous languages. 

Because no journey travelled by Africans can reach its proper and desired destination, if it is conceptualized, theorized and realized in the master’s voice and in the master’s tongue and in the confines of borrowed cultural expressions.
And this is why we are responsive to the UNESCO campaign that the decade of 2022 to 2032 should be the decade of indigenous languages. 

We are mindful and conscious that our country and continent need their own road maps towards the development of our languages. We also recognize the importance of cross border languages and the championing of the Pan African language agenda by the African Academy of Languages (AACLAN).According to UNESCO, the essence of this decade is aimed at ensuring indigenous peoples’ right to preserve, revitalize and promote their languages. It offers an opportunity to collaborate in the areas of policy development and to stimulate dialogues and to take essential action for the promotion of indigenous languages. 

The renowned author and public intellectual Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1986) has observed that:  “… language is more than just a means of communication but also a carrier of culture, therefore, the importance of the indigenous languages in the decolonization of our societies means recognising indigenous languages as a carrier of culture not only as a means of communication.”On our African continent, there can be no doubt that our indigenous languages were systematically devalued and marginalised while European languages were valorized. Consequently, language oppression played a sinister role in the colonial project. The continued favoring of European languages at the expense of indigenous African languages has disrupted the cultures and ways of life of African people. For our languages are not only methods of communication, but also extensive and complex systems of knowledge that have developed over years. Program Director: South Africa having won our battle against colonialism and apartheid, we have put in place a constitution that entrenches non-racialism, non-sexism, democracy and equality. Our constitution recognizes freedom of expression and of creativity and embraces linguistic diversity.

From these foundations we have developed progressive legislation that serves to protect and promote multilingualism, that enables the full use of 11 official languages, with a 12th language, South African Sign Language, soon to be added to this. In addition to this, the plight of endangered languages also takes centre -stage with projects in place to support their survival and development.Among these have been the N|uu, Nama, !Xun and Khwe.

Today we highlight five milestones which will assist us in tracking our progress, measuring our success and recognizing potential bottlenecks within the project. The following are milestones to be achieved during the decade of Indigenous Languages:1) Development of a functional Terminology Register and A National Termbank: The Department will launch an online functional National Terminology Register for hosting terminology projects developed in the country in various fields/domains to assist with the pooling and utilisation of resources in the terminology development. The register will be used as a coordination tool which will fast track the development of the National Terminology Bank. 2) Strengthening Partnership with Language Research Networks: The Department is intending to partner with institutions of higher learning in terms of funding research projects that can strengthen multilingualism. 3) Prioritizing development of Sign Language towards officialisation:

This involves initiating and supporting projects to document Sign Language data, to standardise South African Sign Language. 4) Archiving of South African Languages: The Department will provide financial support to projects that will record and document languages via durable and physical media, as well as to develop multi-language learning applications. 5) Streamline our roles through partnerships as government departments: so as not to duplicate efforts, but to ensure a co-ordinated approach. With this in mind we are embarking upon partnerships with the Department of Basic Education and its stakeholders on curriculum development in all official languages and beyond. We are aware that for our efforts to succeed, partnerships with multiple stakeholders are important. We recognize the importance of PanSALB and its efforts to bring organisations and individuals beyond the governmental sector together to assert multilingualism. 

Together with them we shall provide further recognition to those we consider to be language ambassadors in various sectors and sub-sectors. We further recognize that the milestones we have already identified on our Roadmap are a start that will expand along the way.Today, we are proudly, launching a N|uu dictionary which is a multilingual dictionary as the N|uu terms are also represented in the dialect of Afrikaans from the Northern Cape as well as South African English and Khoekhoegowab.This dictionary therefore showcases four languages of the Northern Cape. This dictionary is not only available in hard copy but has also been developed into a free app version and online dictionary portal, accessible to both local and international users.

The Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, with specialised technical development by African Tongue and South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLAR), are demonstrating our full support that children should be educated in their mother tongue and the rights of our citizens to have access to their ancestral linguistic heritage. We are proud to honour the efforts of ǂXuuǀeeki Katrina Esau, without whose efforts this dictionary would not have been possible. Today we are proudly honoured by her presence. She has singlehandedly promoted her language to others and selflessly given her time and energy to language preservation and promotion. Without her efforts, the work of the academics, the researchers involved and the creation of this dictionary would not have been possible. It is with great pride that I shall present a copy of this dictionary to her, as a means of ensuring the protection of the cultural identity and dignity of her people and our people. We say indeed that what we do in the present is a prophecy of our future and the steps we take now to preserve and grow our languages will shape the new road on which new generations will travel, armed with a linguistic inheritance, their birth right and their source of strength.

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