New African language policy mooted

2010-04-22 22:33

Cape Town - Universities should consider making the study of an African language other than Afrikaans compulsory for certain courses, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Thursday.

In some universities, African language departments had become weaker over the years, and strengthening them should be a "central strategy", he said in a speech at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

"I'd like to suggest that universities and professional bodies such as those representing teachers, doctors and lawyers consider making some study (perhaps for a year) of an official African language other than English and Afrikaans compulsory in order to obtain a qualification," he said.

"This would not be a first for this country; it was used successfully in the past to promote Afrikaans among non-Afrikaans speakers."

This would be beneficial to all students, help strengthen African language departments, and raise the status of African languages, the minister said.

Rising age of academics

Nzimande, who was speaking at a summit on transformation in higher education, said an issue that had concerned the sector for over a decade was the rising average age of academics and the need to sustain the academic profession.

"Despite this concern, we have not made a great deal of progress," he said.

"The average age of South African academics is over 50 and is not getting any younger...

"It is important that we identify all the reasons for this situation and that we draw up a comprehensive, medium- to long-term national plan to deal with it."

Academic council

This would involve persuading larger numbers of young graduates to go on to post-graduate studies and to take up an academic career.

It would also mean ensuring acceptable salaries and working conditions.

"This will not be easy to do and, I must confess, the job would be made a lot easier if academics were a better organised constituency and able to speak more forcefully for themselves."

Nzimande said he intended to set up a permanent higher education stakeholder council which would meet once or twice a year.

Its purpose would be to "interrogate various issues" and to keep him informed of the thinking of major stakeholders in the sector.