Indigenous languages issue needs attention

With extreme urgency and aggression, an NGO Ilifa Lethu, or the Indigenous Languages for Advancement, is pounding on the government’s door, demanding that the issue of indigenous languages being marginalised be added to the government’s parliamentary agenda so that it can be regularly discussed in the National Assembly.

In an effort to ensure that South Africa is spared from the real threat of losing its cultural and linguistic moorings to the threatening foreign forces “that seek to bastardise our culture”, the organisation this week sent a letter to the Speaker of the House, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, demanding that the government break free from its inertia and address grave concerns about something “that is dear to our heart as an organisation”: the preservation of
African languages.

Mabutho “Kid” Sithole, the chairperson of Ilifa Lethu, did not mince words when emphasising the seriousness of the situation in the letter that we have seen.

In response to their legitimate demand that “the arrest of the looming demise of indigenous language through disuse in the country” be given priority, Sithole said that previous correspondence to relevant government’s department of arts and culture entities had “simply been lethargic and yielded no desired results to enhance the indigenous languages concerns”.

In a letter to Mapisa-Nqakula, Sithole stated: “The majority of citizens of this country are speakers of indigenous languages. The democratic state has implemented certain initiatives to safeguard, advance, and cultivate native tongues; however, it is our opinion that these languages have slipped from the national agenda and are rapidly disappearing, which could have disastrous effects on African customs, values, identity and culture. “After almost three decades of democracy, we can no longer ignore the importance of indigenous languages.”

According to Sithole, the organisation has taken the position that “the current parliament owes it to the people of South Africa to debate this critical issue and to start a process of a comprehensive review of national policy and legislation to accord indigenous languages the importance that these languages deserve.”

According to him, Ilifa Lethu believed that indigenous languages had been deprioritised to the point of being condemned to extinction via disuse by the Anglo-centric linguistic systems in place.

This cultural crime cannot be the fault of the democratic state. Therefore, it is necessary to regard our plea to the Speaker as a last-ditch effort on the part of an organisation that is fighting for the preservation of our African identity by safeguarding, advancing, and developing native tongues.

“It is important to recognise that our approach to the Speaker is a last-ditch effort to compel the centralisation of indigenous languages as a component of the national agenda,” he stated.

Positively, Sithole expressed his satisfaction with “the office of the Speaker being the only government institution to which we have written and received a timely answer”.

Based on our extensive involvement across several media platforms, including the SABC, we opine that until parliament gives due attention to the matter of indigenous languages, these will persist as marginalised languages and ultimately become obsolete.

“Our identity as Africans is in jeopardy if our languages are not significant enough to warrant the attention of parliament.”


At the time of going to print the office of the speaker had not responded to inguiry.

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