Wits University has taken the first steps toward possibly implementing the African language policy proposed by minister of higher education and training, Blade Nzimande.

Wits’s language policy outlines provisions for isiZulu and Sesotho to be included in the requisite curricula of all degrees, if the government declares this mandatory in tertiary institutions.

Head of the African languages department, Dr Brenda Mhlambi, says, “In order to build positive sustainable development of African languages we need to focus students on the historic and political economic elements of the language, such as its translation and usage in the workplace and for their own economic needs.”

Government and the private sector have to create an environment where graduates need to use African languages to enhance their careers in dealing with co-workers, clients and investors, she adds.

When asked if students would be able to cope with the extra workload, Professor Kathy Munro, acting dean of the faculty of commerce, law and management says, “We had to rise to the challenge of introducing some level of computer literacy and we’ve managed to do this.

“We would need to discuss the practicalities [of the proposal] and I’m ready to have that debate.”

 Mhlambi says, “The development of African languages as academia is not sustainable in the long term when political motives are the main reason for it.

“The language [course] will see high numbers of learners enrolling and upon a change in government, the number of students needing the language rapidly declines.

 “This was evident when the Afrikaans department had to be closed at Wits University in the mid-1990s.”

According to Section 29(2) of the Constitution, the right to receive education in an official language is subject to the practical considerations of making it feasible.

The Wits language policy, 2003, indicates isiZulu and Sesotho are the most widely spoken languages in Johannesburg but the university would only be able to develop Sesotho due to financial constraints.