Teachers, academics and researchers in linguistics have been branded “the first line of defence” in South Africa’s endeavours to protect and reclaim a supposedly waning heritage by safeguarding its indigenous languages.
This was a heartfelt, passion-fuelled assertion made on Tuesday 1 July by well-renowned author and writer-in-residence at the University of the Western Cape Dr Sindiwe Magona during a sobering address at the Walter Sisulu University-hosted 18th African Language Association of Southern Africa (ALASA) Interim Conference taking place in Mthatha from 30 June -2 July.
Looking to closely address the theme at hand titled “Reclaiming our African Heritage through language”, Magona said the weaponry needed to defend and protect an African heritage already under heavy duress lay with those in the education sector – the teachers and administrators.
“It is you (linguists) who have the power to reverse the wrongs that are putting our languages and culture at risk of disappearing with the sands of time. Stand up against a government and society that continues to fail to acknowledge the sacredness of who we are and what we are as a people,” said Mogona.
Magona’s address, titled “Zemk’iinkomo magwalandini! Cry, the beloved language” cast a wide eye on a series of issues that need to be addressed in order for this country to begin marching in the right direction in efforts to reclaim its heritage.
She said a number of issues would need to be addressed with extreme urgency in order for the country to reclaim its heritage.
“Using language as an instrument to reclaim our heritage is not something that will happen overnight. We have to look at our socio-economic realities and see how these have contributed to a people who have no self-respect or respect for another anymore. We have to look at our government policies and interrogate whether these talk to preservation of our heritage and respect of our culture as Africans. We also need to look at whether we are battle-ready as people to fight for what is essentially us,” she said impassionedly.
Magona’s address was preceded by another thought-provoking talk by leading linguistics expert, renowned linguist and founder of the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS) Prof Kwesi Kwaa Prah, who, on the opening day of the conference delved into the importance of culture in the development of a people.
“Culture in general and language and literacy are crucial and central to the development endeavour. Without our cultures there is little or no hope for meaningful change for Africans. I mean change which will ensure we developmentally advance and do not culturally disappear,” said Prah.
Prah said the lack of success in making headway in development of African societies “has kept interested parties in the grindstone”.
“Questions thus that need to be answered regarding this issue are; what are the relevant contextual linguistic realities of contemporary Africa? How do they affect the issues attendant on development? How do the dominant assumptions and epistemology in applied linguistics relate to the challenges that face Africa today? This is what my research seeks to answer,” concluded Prah.
WSU Spokesperson Angela Church said that for WSU to host this conference was both an honour and a verification of the University’s influence in the area of indigenous knowledge.
“Globalisation and the rapid development of communication technologies have created a challenging environment for the preservation and development of indigenous knowledge systems and in particular of African languages which carry centuries of unique human experience in oral traditions,” she concluded.