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Mbulungeni Madiba calls for the Intellectualisation of African Languages at the Launch of Interviews with Neville Alexander

Mbulungeni Madiba, Karen Press and Lungisile Ntsebeza

Interviews with Neville AlexanderMbulungeni Madiba, co-ordinator of the Multilingualism Education Project (MEP) and chairperson of the Pan South African Language Board, spoke recently at the launch of Interviews with Neville Alexander: The Power of Languages Against the Language of Power about the intellectualisation of indigenous African languages.

Alexander, a revolutionary and struggle hero, passed away in 2012, at the age of 75, after a long battle with cancer, but his memory was very much alive at the launch of the book.

Read Liesl Jobson’s tweets from the event, and Madiba’s thoughts after the jump:

Neville Alexander’s Perspectives and Paradigms on Language and Education by Mbulungeni Madiba

Dr Neville Alexander was one of South Africa’s leading and independent scholars with a critical voice. He was someone with a razor-sharp mind that was able to analyse and clarify issues in an extraordinary way. He always wanted people to engage and debate his perspectives and paradigms. On the back cover of one of his latest books, he has the following to say:

“My sincere wish is that readers will consider these thoughts, take a step back and try to get a perspective on what has actually been happening since 1990, when the new South Africa began. Even more optimistically, I hope that such a rethink will inspire the reader to want to find a point of engagement …”

Alexander’ scholarly work is multifaceted and one cannot do justice to try to give a full reflection of all his contributions in just 30 minutes. I will therefore only focus on his contribution to multilingualism and African languages, and more specifically his perspectives and paradigms on these two issues.

Alexander was highly committed and passionate about multilingualism and the development of African languages. His recently published book was an effort to recap on some of the core issues and concerns that he dealt with in his life as a political activist and a scholar. It is important to note that the issue of multilingualism, African languages and the national question runs through the book like a golden thread. Alexander’s book raises some serious questions and concerns about our state of education which he describes as a ‘crisis’ and about the role that language planning can play in this regard:

Some critical questions

1. How can we, through language planning and other interventions, initiate or reinforce changes in the patterns of development and in the dominant social relations?

2. What factors determine, or at least influence, changes in individuals’ attitudes and behaviour?

3. How do we assist in the decolonisation of the mind of the billions of people who are held in thrall by the demonstrable “superiority” of the global languages as propagated and prioritised by their own ruling groups and strata?

4. How can we make the move from the existing situation where the former colonial languages dominate to one where the indigenous languages of Africa become dominant?

Although all these questions are relevant for our engagement with the book, I will only focus on the last question. This question is very pertinent as not much progress has been made on the implementation of language policy for schools and higher education in the last 20 years. As Alexander rightly pointed out, while we have developed good language in education policies, there are no implementation plans to give effect to these policies.

In fact, the existing language-in-education policies, language curricula and language practices in schools and universities show government’s ambivalence towards the use of indigenous African languages in education. While the policy promotes additive bilingualism/multilingualism, that is the maintenance of home language and the learning of at least one additional language, it is not being implemented as many schools have no language policies, and those schools or institutions that have developed language policies, they have no implementation plans.

Alexander’s recent book emphasises his firm belief in additive mother-tongue based bilingual education and the role of translation in the intellectualisation of indigenous African languages.

Book details


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