Zulu lessons for all at UKZN?

2013-05-21 00:00

King Zwelithini: A bold step

KING Goodwill Zwelithini congratulated the leadership of the University of KwaZulu-Natal on its “bold step” in introducing Zulu as a compulsory course for first-year students.

UKZN announced last week that from next year all students registering for undergraduate degrees at the university would be required to pass or obtain a credit for a prescribed Zulu module before they could graduate. Some students will be exempted.

Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Renuka Vithal said UKZN would be the first university among South African institutions of higher learning to make bilingualism a compulsory requirement for undergraduates.

In his response to questions by The Witness, Zwelithini said in a statement that he strongly believed that the decision would not only promote multi-lingualism among younger generations of different races, but would also contribute immensely towards the preservation and development of indigenous languages in South Africa, because any language transcends history.

“The shift in the university policy is in fact long overdue and must not just be seen as an attempt to promote a particular language group,” Zwelithini said.

Rather, he said, this would teach students to accept each other rather than simply tolerate each other.

However, he added, there was still a lot of work to be done in healing the wounds that were inflicted on Zulu culture by colonialists.

“The introduction of Zulu as a course for undergraduates is one step in the right direction. My dream is that one day indigenous African languages will enjoy the same recognition as the so-called international or business languages,” said the king.

He noted that this “positive” announcement came when the African Union was celebrating its 50th anniversary — “an organisation formed by African leaders to, among other things, fight against all forms of oppression including mental slavery”.

Admitting that she could not speak Zulu herself, Vithal said the top executives were due to commence with their Zulu lessons next semester. Courses would also be rolled out for the staff to attend.

She said Zulu was one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa and that their multi-lingualism would be an asset to their students when they left to join the market place.

When asked if they were not scared to lose prospective students, Vithal said: “Smart students will choose UKZN to acquire this opportunity.”

The Zulu proficiency module will come in a course package and students would not have a choice to refuse to take the module. She said 60% of the students were Zulu speaking, while there has been a decrease in the number of English speakers.

Vithal said some research and doctoral theses were being written in Zulu as an academic language.

During the first phase of implementation, until 2018, she added, students and staff would develop communicative competence in Zulu and English sufficient for academic interaction. From 2019 to 2029, UKZN would encourage all academic disciplines to assist students and staff to develop appropriate writing skills in English and Zulu.

Vithal said there had been great support for the policy from students.

Prof. Jabulani Maphalala: A fairytale

VETERAN historian Professor Jabulani Maphalala says the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s introduction of a Zulu proficiency module in all undergraduate degree programmes “means nothing”.

The Zulu historian and former University of Zululand history lecturer said there was nothing groundbreaking in UKZN’s move.

“This is a fairytale,” he told The Witness. Zulu should rather become a medium of instruction, from the administration through to the teaching level, he said.

“If UKZN had said ‘our medium of instruction is now Zulu’, then I was going to say ‘now we’re talking’. That’s the announcement I was waiting for.”

Maphalala predicted that white professors and students would pack their bags and leave the institution.

“And this is going to kill the university,” he said.

He noted that some black students who attended private schools could also not speak or write Zulu.

“Black people also love English and they like showing off by how well they can speak the language.”

“You’d swear that this was England,” he added.

Maphalala said it would be difficult to force university students to take Zulu, but added that this initiative should be enforced in schools by the Basic Education Department.

He told The Witness that his post-1994 initiative to teach history only in Zulu at UniZulu was met with much criticism.

In contrast, Dr Thulani John Mbuli, chairperson of the Zulu National Language Board under the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), congratulated the UKZN senate and council for encouraging the adoption of Zulu.

Mbuli said the university’s step had given meaning to the African renaissance. He cautioned against people who might think that the Zulu proficiency module was intended to create a “hegemony”.

“This should not be seen as a threat, but as complementary to English,” he said. “We don’t want to create domination, like Afrikaans [in the past], but we want to develop all the 11 official languages.”

Mbuli said the PanSALB was pushing for other universities to introduce African languages, for example for the University of Limpopo to teach Venda and Fort Hare University to teach Xhosa. He said Zulu was spoken from Cape Town to Zambia and had become an international language, with universities in Boston and Florida also teaching the language.

Mbuli said “people of colour” scored As in their exams when question papers were set in their mother tongues. “Our people fail not because they’re stupid, but because they don’t understand [English].”

He said some negative reactions to the UKZN move might be expected from individuals. “Of course there are those who’ll choose to run away, [but] you can’t be in a sea of Zulus and shy away from it.”

He pointed out that language was about the identity of a people, adding that there were were some 27 million speakers of Zulu in South Africa.

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