Decolonising education: Lessons from the Afrikaans language


Seeing the Afrikaans language as a decolonised language, speakers at the Breaking Down Borders – Africa Youth Summit conference shared how central language is in decolonising education.

Dr Edith Phaswane, a senior lecturer at the University of South Africa (Unisa), said a model of decolonisation can be learnt from how Afrikaans developed.

It’s because this language evolved in the twentieth century. Before 1914 there was no Afrikaans, but today we speak of Afrikaans as scientific language that is taught at university level, that has produced its own literature as well,” said Phaswane.

Our languages – isiXhosa, seSotho and all of them – are older than Afrikaans, are more matured than Afrikaans and if Afrikaans can reach this level … it means there’s a possibility that we can form our own creole from the many Nguni and Sotho languages that we have in this country in order to form a formal scientific language at university level,” she added.

In a panel discussion about decolonising education that Phaswane moderated, researchers at the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute and Unisa discussed existing African knowledge systems and how African languages can be formalised to be integrated in new knowledge production.

If we really want to decolonise languages the lesson that can be learnt is from Afrikaans … In our road and our insistence of decolonisation the evolution of the Afrikaans language should be a perfect model and example,” said Phaswane.

Moorosi Leshoele, a researcher at the leadership institute, suggested that Africans consider a Pan-African language to be used in education, trade and other formal spaces.

What we advocate for is not necessarily a creation of a homogenous language throughout the continent but it’s just so that we can do business easy, we can make interacting, migrating and living with other Africans easier,” he said.

What we argue for is a predominant language that we know [and] that we must fall back into, the same way we do with English,” he added.

Phaswane said: “In my view, languages are diverse and in their diversity there shouldn’t be a point where just because we want to upgrade our language we do away with our languages.”

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