In a historic victory for the protection and promotion South Africa’s cultural and linguistic diversity in general, and for the speakers of Afrikaans as well as Khoi and San languages in particular, months of sustained hard work by the Democratic Alliance (DA) has forced Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s department to finally admit that these languages are, in fact, indigenous to South Africa.
The confirmation that the DA has been right all along in our quest to force the ANC national government to recognise the indigenous status of Afrikaans, Khoi and San languages is contained in a legal opinion obtained by Nzimande on 11 October 2021. Nzimande’s office finally shared the document with us after the DA yesterday submitted an appeal in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), after Nzimande initially ignored our original request on 16 January 2022.
The document explicitly states that “the request for the opinion was prompted by the questions raised by Dr L.A. Schreiber (DA Member of Parliament)” to Nzimande. It recommends that Nzimande must amend the Language Policy Framework for Higher Education Institutions, which went into force on 1 January 2022, to rightfully recognise the indigenous status of these languages.
After reviewing the relevant case law, and as the DA has maintained all along, the opinion confirms that “it is apparent that the Constitutional Court regards Afrikaans as an African language and indigenous to South Africa.” It reaffirms this finding by explicitly stating that “The exclusion of Afrikaans in the Language Policy as an indigenous language is inconsistent with the Constitutional Court’s consideration of Afrikaans as an indigenous language.”
As a result of this finding, the legal opinion also confirms what the DA originally suggested as a solution to Nzimande when we first exposed this issue over a year ago. We have long argued that it is critically important that previously marginalised indigenous South African languages must be developed to their full potential – but that this does not require Afrikaans, Khoi and San languages to be classified as “foreign” or otherwise eroded. Consistent with our view, the opinion duly recommends that where the Policy Framework’s intention is to develop other indigenous languages, it simply refers to those particular languages as “previously marginalised indigenous languages.”
Finally, the legal opinion obtained as a result of relentless DA pressure implicitly warns the Minister that it would be a waste of scarce government resources for him to disregard this sound legal advice. The document states that the drafters are “of the view that the [use of the] proposed term will circumvent any potential litigation to challenge the definition and unnecessary legal costs that might be incurred as a result of the litigation.”
The DA urges Minister Nzimande and the ANC national government to now cease their hateful campaign against these indigenous languages. It is instead time to heed the advice contained in this legal opinion by urgently amending the Language Policy Framework to recognise Afrikaans as well as Khoi and San languages as fully-fledged indigenous African languages worthy of dignity, protection and promotion for generations to come. No matter how much Minister Nzimande may dislike these languages, it is simply unsustainable for him to continue to classify them as “foreign” despite the legal advice he has obtained.
As we have done over the past year through countless parliamentary questions, petitions, protest actions and PAIA requests, the DA will continue to apply unrelenting pressure on Nzimande until the Policy Framework is formally amended in line with the legal opinion and the DA’s long-held position.
The implications of this DA victory are historic for the future of these languages. Once these changes are effected to the Policy Framework, Afrikaans, Khoi and San cannot be legally deprived of the resources allocated to developing and promoting indigenous South African languages, including at our universities.
The DA’s latest victory in this long-running battle to promote and develop all of South Africa’s indigenous languages affirms that we are the only party in South Africa that truly treasures our country’s diverse and rich cultural and linguistic heritage, and that we are also the only party that actually gets things done to protect and promote language rights.