In an inspiring move to promote and preserve indigenous languages, Professor Mpho Ngoepe, Unisa’s School of Arts Director in the College of Human Sciences (CHS), dedicates his participation in the upcoming 2023 Comrades Marathon to raise awareness and funds for indigenous languages. The partnership between Unisa, Indigenous Languages Initiative for Advancement (ILIFA) and Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, aims to address the lack of access to books and to quality children’s literature in African languages.

According to recent reading comprehension results, a staggering 81% of South African Grade 4 learners struggle to read for meaning in any language, representing an increase from 78% in 2016. These figures emphasise the urgent need for investment in multilingual literacy. Surprisingly, only 2% of all books published in South Africa are in African languages, even though 80% of the population speak a home language other than English or Afrikaans, which dominate the publishing industry. Furthermore, a mere 8% of public schools in the country have a library, and many teachers lack the necessary skills to teach children how to read.

Reflecting on his passion for indigenous languages and heritage, Ngoepe shares, “Having written award-winning anthologies of Northern Sotho short stories, I realised that indigenous languages are often neglected. The limited exposure and usage of these languages in education, politics, health, economy, science and social contexts, mean that even native speakers struggle with reading and writing.” Ngoepe adds, “I believe that it is our collective responsibility to empower children to become proficient and proud speakers of indigenous languages.”

Ngoepe had previously participated in nine Comrades Marathons and expresses his determination to complete the race the tenth time to raise awareness for the development and preservation of indigenous languages. By producing high-quality books in these languages, he believes that South Africa can compete at a global level. With his goal of securing a green number at the marathon, an achievement awarded to participants who complete their tenth marathon, Ngoepe hopes to inspire others to embrace the significance of language and heritage.

On 11 June, Ngoepe and his fellow runners will embark on the arduous journey from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. Ngoepe urges the public to support his cause, whether by cheering from the side or contributing to the #RacingForOurLanguages campaign by calling the hotline on 079 267 7469 (available via voice call or WhatsApp during business hours) to make their pledge.

The Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, renowned for its award-winning contributions to children’s literature, has taken the lead in collecting donations through their website. They humbly request contributions of any amount to support this cause.

Let us come together and rally behind Unisa’s astonishing academic as he races for indigenous languages, taking a significant step towards creating a brighter future for South African children and their linguistic identities.

Click here to access Puku’s website and pledge your support.



*By Tebogo Mahlaela, Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Human Sciences