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Swahili can unite and decolonise Africa

Author: Myolisi Gophe

UWC hosted a colloquium on the Role of Indigenous Languages in Shaping the Future of the African Continent

(Published - 7 August 2019)

The decolonisation of Africa and its unification can only happen through the use of one language – Swahili.

This is the opinion of UWC Students’ Representative Council (SRC) President, Simthandile Tyhali.

Tyhali spoke at the Colloquium on the Role of Indigenous Languages in Shaping the Future of the African Continent.

The event was organised by the Department of IsiXhosa in the Faculty of Arts, together with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport of the Western Cape government, the national Department of Arts and Culture as well as the Swahili Language Board of Southern Africa and the Pan South African Language Board. Various stakeholders - including activists, scholars, teachers and community and traditional leaders – attended the event.

According to Tyhali, Swahili is spoken widely in the Eastern part of Africa as a lingua franca and is a national language in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

“Therefore, the teaching of Swahili will not only benefit the East African community but will also benefit the continent as a whole. It is an easy language to learn compared to French and Mandarin because of its Bantu origins,” said Tyhali.

Tyhali added UWC was the best place to debate the role of indigenous languages but said these conversations should take place in communities too.

In her address Professor Vuyokazi Nomlomo, Dean of the Faculty of Education, said there are more than 2 000 languages spoken on the African continent but indigenous languages remain marginalised in formal domains such as business and education where colonial languages are favoured.  

Only 25% of African languages are used in the secondary education sector and just 5% are used at tertiary education level.

“We still feel the pain of colonial dependency. We depend on colonial languages even though the disadvantages of that have been extensively published,” said Prof Nomlomo.

Prof Nomlomo believes that Africa should invest in quality education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“[This will ensure] that our graduates can compete in the global market. In the past two decades Africans have been emphasising education for all but if it is for all Africans, in whose language is it made available? Indigenous languages should be at the centre of education transformation in our continent.”​​

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