Namkelekile eChina

The Wits African Languages department is taking isiZulu to China. The department will host scholars from Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) who will learn isiZulu which they will then teach to students at their home institution as part of a project between the two institutions. The trained academics will then offer isiZulu at BFSU as a third language option for teaching and learning.

The project was launched early last week at the university where the South African ambassador to China was present.

The head of the strategic partnerships office at Wits, Dr Mahomed Moola, said that representatives of BFSU approached the South African embassy in Beijing which in turn approached Wits to head up the initiative.

According to Moola, a PhD scholar will be coming to Wits from China next year to complete an undergraduate course in isiZulu for non-zulu speakers. He added that these scholars will have to obtain a professional degree and teaching qualification before they can go back to China to teach isiZulu to their students.

Associate professor in African Languages, Innocentia Mhlambi, said this will be the first collaboration of its kind for Wits. “The programme has been launched through their initiative, our part is when the two institutions would have agreed on standard terms which will allow exchanges and other forms of collaboration,” she said.

Mhlambi added that BFSU has set the pace for themselves since the launch last week and according to their numbers, a dozen of students chose the course as their third language.

“Once we have the memorandum of understanding, agreed upon, then we shall have greater participation and direction the teaching and development of the course,” she said.

“We are actually greatly pleased that there are certain kinds of developments, very marked kinds of advances to see that isiZulu begins to be seen not only as a local language, but as a language that also appeals to international kinds of arenas,” Mhlambi told Wits Vuvuzela.

She said that such a collaboration will also benefit exchange staff and students from South Africa to get employment in China.


Moola said the signing of the final agreement with the institution will take place in the weeks ahead.


Third year postgraduate LLB student, Nhlanhla Mjiyako, who completed a course in African Languages in his undergraduate degree, said this is good idea because it facilitates “global cultural exchange”.

He said, “it’s a positive variant of globalisation other than the monolingual or hegemonic English establishments”, he added that it is good for Asia and Africa relations as well.

OPINION: I don’t mind my language



To my fellow English speaking South Africans, English is not my mother tongue. So no, I don’t speak my African languages to only skinner about you.  My language is way more sophisticated than that. It is bold, descriptive, romantic and fierce.

It seems to me that there is a taboo around speaking vernacular languages in academic spaces. If you don’t speak with a Model C accent, you are viewed as a not so intelligent sub human species with a primitive understanding of the world. Its been 39 years since black students protested against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools, yet we have academic institutions like Stellenbosch University who blatantly refuse to welcome and facilitate language diversity among students.

I used to chuckle whenever I’d hear students say, “I go to Virrts”. But now it makes me sad to hear it. Sad to see my fellow African Witsies morph their speech to fit into a nonsensical and uniform mould of what an educated black person should sound like. Language should be a tool to communicate with a diverse people not a weapon used to exclude students from academic discourse.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting the author of the Sesotho dictionary, Zulumathabo Zulu. I was going to write articles in the seSotho language for the first time and he was going to be my guide through it. I was in awe of the man’s accomplishments but at the same time I was intimidated by him for two reasons. Firstly, the seSotho I speak  has been infused with the other five languages that I use, so it’s not as sophisticated as his. Secondly, the man has written a whole seSotho dictionary and its focus is on my long time nemesis- MATHEMATICS!

The first question I asked him was how I as a young journalist could effectively use his book to write human interest stories? He smiled and eloquently explained that, “in seSotho, mathematics is derived from the ordinary and mundane concepts that people already understand.” He flipped through a copy of his book and randomly stopped on a page with the word ‘motshetshe’ listed on it. “As in the crease that is ironed down a pair of formal trousers?,” I naively asked. “Exactly, the angle that is formed by the crease is used in our language to explain the mathematical concept of angles and arches.” he replied.

He explained that African people have mathematical knowledge which is integrated as part of their lives, unlike the Western communities, where mathematics is more abstract. I experienced pure enlightenment and joy as I came to realise  how beautifully simple and complex my language is. It became so vividly apparent to me in that moment, that my language transcends barriers, it is versatile and far more refined than society gives it credit for.

Nasal speech does not make you sound more intelligent and speaking your mother tongue doesn’t make you stupid. Our language is an important part of our heritage, something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth. If we are not able to speak it and learn in our native tongues, I fear it may end up on the endangered species list.

So no, I don’t speak my mother tongue to just skinner about you. I choose to speak the languages that I do to be more imaginative, passionate and practical than that. 

Wits journalism introduces African language lecturers

Three indigenous speaking mentors have come to join the Wits journalism department to help students write in their native tongues.


Palesa ‘Deejay’ Manaleng, Vusi Mchunu and Zulumathabo Zulu will be assisting the students in writing their stories in Sesotho and isiZulu. They have joined the department in the wake of the many transformation conversations happening across the Wits campuses.


As an indigenous knowledge holder and practitioner, Zulu says he is excited about the opportunity because language is the most important part of cultural knowledge. “Language is the means of transmitting knowledge” he said and, “One of the roles of the traditional African society is to facilitate the transmission of cultural and survival knowledge for the future generations.”


Vuvuzela reported earlier in the year that Wits University was in the process of tabling a multilingual policy that will incorporate African languages into broader campus policy. This means students and lecturers will be able to use IsiZulu, Sesotho and South African sign language as mediums of instruction in and out of the classroom.

Manaleng told Wits Vuvuzela that the challenge facing indigenous languages is that they don’t have a proper platform. “We have buildings full of books written in English but barely a truckload in indigenous languages, “she said.


“We have been taught that it is ok to know indigenous languages but better to know English and to think and communicate in English,” Manaleng warns that should this continue, we could read about indigenous languages as things that existed once a long time ago.

LANGUAGE INCLUSITIVITY: English, isiZulu and seSotho languages are being incorporated into Witsvuvuzela's articles. Photo: Michelle Gumede

LANGUAGE INCLUSITIVITY: English, isiZulu and seSotho languages are being incorporated into Witsvuvuzela’s articles. Photo: Michelle Gumede


Anelisa Tuswa, one of the journalism students said that she is quite happy with the inclusion of African languages in general, but it would have been nice if we included other languages such as Xhosa were included, “I can only write in Xhosa and English.”


Head of Journalism School, Professor Anton Harber says that, “As part of our discussion on university transformation, we decided to experiment with multilingualism. One of the most fundamental problems with our news media is that there is very little print media in languages other than English and Afrikaans – and we need to play our role in addressing this. Apart from this, a journalist who is not multilingual will always struggle in this society – and journalism schools need to address this.”


Vuvuzela will be publishing more stories in isiZulu and seSotho in the following weeks until the end of this year.


Wits to adopt Zulu and Sotho languages

Read this article in isiZulu

Wits University is tabling a multilingual policy that will incorporate Sesotho and isiZulu as co-languages, along with English as an official part of campus life, in and outside the classroom.

The policy also proposes that SA Sign Language be included. The new policy proposal comes as a recommendation from the Strategic Planning Division which conducted a surveyed study of Wits students, academic staff, professional and support services staff and employees in outsourced services.

The study indicates that the number of Sesotho and IsiZulu speaking members of the Wits community are more or less equal.

“This has prompted the shift from a bilingual to a multilingual policy, the languages don’t compete, they are just used by speakers differently,” said Milani.

“We need broader visibility in the public space of our local languages in places like logos for instance.”

The previous language policy was adopted in 2003 where the university commited to developing Sesotho as a medium of instruction together with English. This meant researching and developing teaching resources along with developing the linguistic abilities of staff and students alike.

The translation of key documents such as application forms and rules, translation services in disciplinary hearings as well as multilingual and multicultural practices at ceremonies like graduations were some of the measures planned under the policy.

However, despite the plans the Sesotho language policy was never implemented by Wits.

“The need was identified but on the whole, no real concerted efforts were made,” said Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academics Prof Andrew Crouch.

Associate Professor of Linguistics Tommaso Milani said the previous policy was a ‘symbolic policy’, and no real progress was made on the ground to develop and implement Sesotho on campus. He said the policy was a document that indicated the university’s “good intentions” in relation to multilingualism but was never translated into real actions.

According to Milani, to avoid the pitfalls that struck the previous language policy, the university would have to make sure financial resources were allocated for the implementation of the new language policy. Any policy would remain “symbolic” if no or too little money is set aside for its implementation, said Milani.

Crouch agreed the project to make Wits multilingual would have to be budgeted for if it was to be successful.

“You don’t have to lose culture in the sea of economics,” Crouch said.

Talks on this multilingual language policy will continue until August and students and staff are encouraged to voice their opinion. Milani said that he hopes the policy will “espouse equality in a truly genuine way.”

Multilingualism is already part of the curriculum for Wits Medical School were students have to complete a local language course for them to graduate.

According to Karabo Ramugondo, MA African languages and Linguistics,  said the new policy would “ensure a multilingual institution where more than one language can be used for conceptualisation, thought and knowledge production.”

“We live in a multilingual and multicultural environment and this shift in policy allows for the development of the African languages beyond them being used as languages of communication at home,” said Ramugondo.

Read this article in isiZulu


VIDEO: He’s not just a beggar at the stop street, he teaches Zulu to passing motorists

Twenty-three-year old Veli Moses Mackenzie,  is a homeless man who teaches isiZulu to motorists on busy Empire road in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

Mackenzie also known as ‘Jovies’ teaches the language to motorists using only a placard that he uses for his ‘word of the day.’ He boasts that he once taught isiZulu to a man from Wits University who used Mackenzie’s word of the day to compile a list that he eventually memorised.

This video is a production of the 2014 Wits Journalism short course in television.