Thursday, May 5, 2011

The rise and rise of Zulu

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande kicked up a stink this week when he proposed that all university degrees include an African language as part of their programmes of study. As a condition for graduating, all students would need to learn an African language.
Personally, I think it’s an excellent idea as it champions the cause of minority language rights. The problem, however, is that while it’s great in theory, actually implementing this might prove tricky. Perhaps a better option would be to start with the teaching of additional languages at the primary school level, rather than expect students who have been speaking one or two languages for the past 20-odd years to suddenly pick up an additional language – and be able to speak it coherently by the time their three-year degrees come to an end.
That being said, if given a choice, which language would you choose? I’m going with Zulu.
By no means a minority language, Zulu has been quite prolific in the media space in the past six months, especially the online space. It all started in November last year when Sunday Times launched a Zulu edition – a language spoken by 50% of the South African population and is the mother tongue of 24% of the population, according to the Pan SA Language Board.
In March this year, it was reported that News24 had followed suit, launching a Zulu version of its popular news service, offering the latest in headlines, sport, finance and weather. Just days later, it was reported that Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser (which is already available in North Sotho) had been customised by translators to support Zulu. I’m beginning to see a pattern here…
A recent article by AFP reported that while most South African print media are battling declining circulations and an advertising drought, Zulu-language papers are flourishing, with more titles appearing and sales rising. TakeIsolezwe, for example, which was launched in 2002 and is now South Africa’s third most popular newspaper, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Sales of its daily edition topped 104 000 last year; and at R2.80 a copy, it’s hardly surprising – quality news at an affordable price.
I’m hoping to see some of our minority languages afforded the same recognition at some stage. And if, in so doing, it means including African languages in university modules, then I’m 100% for it.

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