Unisa joins forces with Puku, Ilifa to promote mother languages

In celebration of International Mother Language Day, the University of South Africa (Unisa), Puku Children’s Literature Foundation and the Indigenous Language Initiative for Advancement (Ilifa) announced a ground-breaking partnership to promote South Africa’s native languages.

Officially announced during an event to celebrate the day sanctioned by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the tripartite alliance was  formalised about three months ago. 

The partnership consolidates the work that is being done by the three organisations in the promotion of indigenous languages.


Unisa – the only university that teaches all 11 official languages in South Africa – promotes the intellectualisation of Africa languages especially with reference to early childhood development, education and reading.

Plan to advance indigenous languages

Puku focuses on children literature, reading and making books accessible to children in their mother tongue. While, Ilifa advocates for indigenous language use and representation in all spheres of society.

Working together, Unisa, Puku and Ilifa aim to advance and promote South Africa’s indigenous languages, nationally and regionally.

Representing Unisa, Prof Siyasanga Tyali of the School of Arts said the university is working on teaching Sign Language, which will increase the tally of official languages taught at the varsity to official total of 12.

Award-winning author and executive director of Puku, Elinor Sisulu, said the three partners will also work together to host joint campaigns to promote and celebrate the use of indigenous languages.

“It is about advocating for an African curriculum… a decolonisation project to promote indigenous knowledge systems and knowledge of organic intellectuals,” said Sisulu.


Ilifa chairperson Mabutho ‘Kid’ Sithole

Ilifa’s chairperson, renowned actor Mabutho “Kid” Sithole, said it was rare for a large  institute of Unisa’s nature and calibre to be keen to work with a non-governmental organisation from the backstreets of the township.

Adding that partnership will respond to a dream deferred in 1994, which is to tackle one of very difficult subjects in democratic South Africa, which is language. 

“A numerical majority have been turned into a cultural minority. We might be many in numbers but turn on your TV you will not hear our languages,” he said.

Language debate in Tshivenda

He said the use and promotion of indigenous languages also has the capacity to create more jobs, urging sponsors to fund initiatives to promote these languages.

“Our (Ilifa’s) programmes are of advocacy, Puku provides books and academics (Unisa) makes sure that our indigenous languages are developed. We need a transformed curriculum,” he said.

On Thursday Ilifa will be holding school debates in the Venda language for grade 12 pupils  at Protea Glen Secondary and Vuwani Secondary Schools in Soweto as part of its mother language debates.

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