The DA has lodged a complaint with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) against the South African government and the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande. The DA’s aim with this intervention is for the United Nations (UN) to force Minister Nzimande and the government to recognise Afrikaans as well as the Khoi, San and Nama languages as full-fledged indigenous South African languages in the new Language Policy Framework for Higher Education Institutions.
According to UNESCO’s complaint procedure, the South African government must respond within three months to the DA’s complaint that Minister Nzimande’s classification of these languages as “foreign” violates Articles 26 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These articles stipulate that everyone has the right to education; that higher education should be accessible to all on the basis of merit; that education should be used to “promote understanding, tolerance and friendship between all nations, races or ethnic groups”; and that everyone has the right to participate freely in the cultural life of their community.
The DA believes that the hateful classification of Afrikaans as well as Khoi, San and Nama languages as “foreign” violates all of these values.
The explicit aim of Minister Nzimande’s Language Policy Framework is to develop and strengthen “indigenous languages as languages of academia, teaching, learning and communication at South African universities”. The exclusion of certain languages from the definition of “indigenous languages” therefore means that these languages are excluded from the policy’s efforts to develop and strengthen South African languages.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has also already acknowledged that Afrikaans-speakers are “scared and worried” about the implication of the misclassification. The reason for this is that the classification of Afrikaans as well as Khoi, San and Nama languages as “foreign” creates the impression that the speakers of these languages are in some way “alien” or “foreign” to South Africa, and do therefore not really belong here. This othering that attempts to classify certain citizens as “foreign” is in direct conflict with Article 26’s stipulation that education must be used to promote “understanding, tolerance and friendship”.
Finally, the Language Policy Framework makes it clear that the government will make fewer resources available to languages that they consider to be “foreign”. In this way, the speakers of Afrikaans as well as Khoi, San and Nama languages will be deprived of the resources they need to sustain the cultural life of their communities – in direct violation to Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The DA was forced to lay this charge following the government’s persistent refusal to correct the misclassification. The DA has made three written requests to Minister Nzimande to correct the definition. We have also lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), handed over a public petition and wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa about it. The government has chosen to ignore these pleas – leaving us with no choice but to approach the international community for help.
Our request to the UN also emphasizes the urgency of the matter. The new Language Policy Framework will come into effect in January 2022, and we hope that the international community will help us force the government to recognise Afrikaans as well as Khoi, San and Nama languages as full-fledged indigenous languages that are also entitled to support and recognition, before that date.