Published in Wits Vuvuzela 17th Edition 27 July
Wits’ language policy to introduce Sesotho as the university’s second language has been a failure, says Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Yunus Ballim.
The policy, implemented in 2003, aimed to have Sesotho spoken by all lecturers and provided for academically. “I think it’s fair to say the document failed. In its intention it was noble, but in its practical implementation sense it was ill-conceived. It is in serious, serious need of a rewrite,” Ballim says.
The person responsible for that rewrite is Dean of Humanities Prof Tawana Kupe, who wants to move back to the basics by “beefing up” the African Languages department. This additional “academic scaffolding” would provide the structure for the department to lead the university forward with an updated policy.
The policy is almost ten years old. The aim was for Wits to join the University of the Free State and the University of Lesotho in advancing the Sesotho language in the academic arena.
Ballim explains that a fundamental error in the policy is its attempt to carve up the language geography of the country. “We were mistaken in the way we conceived of the language policy … in part what we had responded to was an apartheid conception of the geography of African languages.”
While the policy itself has not led to any direct developments, it is not all doom and gloom for the advancement of African languages at the historically English-dominated university.
Ballim implemented a compulsory Zulu course in the Health Sciences, which is now an examinable subject in 2nd year. This was a departure from the Sesotho-based policy, and isiZulu was chosen as a more accessible language for interaction, most importantly for communication with patients.
Ballim used the influence of creative writing as a more effective tool for challenging academic discourse, rather than trying to learn from a textbook. “Universities have not responded to the dynamism in language. We need to modernise our conception of the teaching of African languages.”
Kupe agrees, pointing to the diversity of languages used in local soapies and the changing way we perceive language. “We need to teach language in a way that people understand.”