Unofficial Official languages in South Africa

2014-09-19 03:10

South Africa... a rainbow nation. A place of diversity. This is one of the few countries with such diverse and rich cultures. The country with eleven official languages... Yes! Eleven lingos!

These eleven official languages are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiSwati, isiNdebele, tshiVenda, xiTsonga, English and Afrikaans. Check the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, these are the ONLY official languages in this country.

Make no mistake, there are many other indigenous languages in this country, which are not official. Please shoot me not. I have absolutely no idea what the word "official" mean. Nonetheless, many spoken languages in this land of our fore-fathers still remain unofficial.

Setlokwa, Selobedu and Sepulana are all the forgotten languages. They are all incorporated in one pack of Sepedi. I don't even want to talk about Setswana. Just a quick visit to Mahikeng, Pretoria, and Mogwase will alert you that the three speak different languages, yet they are all labeled to be Setswana. What happened to the Barolong and the Bakgatla? What about Fanakalo? Surely, hundreds of thousands of mine workers speak this language, and believe you me, they love it.

But really? Why should I be bothering you with all these "insignificant" issues that are not even issues at all? Does it really matter? Well, to me, it matters a lot. My question that remains unanswered to date is: What is an OFFICIAL language?

Take for instance, the South African Coat of Arms... !KE E: /XARRA //KE. Whatever it means, but do we ever bump into people who speak this language on a daily basis? I guess that isn't official, is it? Well, it is on your ID book, your passport, your money, your pay slip (if you happened to be a public servant), and any other South African "official" document.

Have you realized that your passport is written République d'Afrique du Sud Passeport? Take a close look at your driving licence. It is written carta de condução. Believe it or not, none of these are in any of the eleven South African "official" languages. Chineke! For crying out loud, we have got more Indians and Zimbabweans here, but we don't have Gujarati and Shona as official languages.

Should we, perhaps, talk university mottos now? Well, you still won't be surprised.

  • University of Cape Town: Spes Bona.
  • Wits University: Scientia et Labore.
  • University of Pretoria: Ad destinatum persequor.
  • The then Medunsa: Scientia et Cura.
  • The then University of the North: Fide et Opera... And many others.

The question remains:

  • What makes a language an official language in South Africa.
  • Who decides on which language should, and which one should not?
  • What makes an indigenous language unofficial?
  • What does the word "official" actually mean?

As the country celebrate its Heritage Day this year, may we also agitate our leaders to "free" the languages the languages of our fore-fathers out of captivity? May that day shine, when all the indigenes of this land shall speak the tongues of their own, as official languages. May that dawn come, when a foreign language shall remain foreign.

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