News / Africa

In S. Africa, English Eclipses Home Languages

Solenn Honorine
South Africa counts no less than 11 official languages: nine black African tongues, plus the languages of the White and mixed race minorities: Afrikaans and English. But, in practice, all languages are not equal. Although the newly released national census shows that barely 9.6 percent of the population speak English at home, it has become the country's lingua franca (common language), used in cities, in business, and in the media. Mastering English is a key to lifting oneself out of poverty. But the black urban bourgeoisie is sometimes confronted with the opposite problem: by favoring English, its children are fast losing their mastery of traditional African languages.

During Zulu at class the Amali Academy, a newly opened language school in the well-off suburb of Bryanston, in Johannesburg, the conversation is halted, shy and hesitant, even though the four students here are, quite literally, speaking their mother's tongue.  Zulu is the language of at least one of their parents, but it has not been passed on to them.  Carmela, 14, grew up exclusively speaking English.

“I normally feel, like, out of place," she admits, "because a lot of my friends know their mother tongues at school, and they would speak that and I wouldn't understand a word they say.  And, they'll be like 'you don't speak it? How? I thought you were this and that.'  And, I'll be like 'yes, but I never learnt the language.'  So sometimes it makes me feel a bit left out.”

Amanda Koffman-Xaba, the owner of Amali Academy, started the school in September to help puzzled parents who, like her, have been unable to pass their native language on to their children.

Koffman-Xaba's husband is Zulu, while she grew up speaking both Afrikaans and Sesotho.  She says the couple "naturally” adopted English as the medium of communication at home.  It went fine until they realized that the older of their two boys, now aged seven and one, would never speak anything else.

“All these years we used to tell ourselves that when the kids start going to formal school system, that's when they'll learn to speak Zulu," she explains.  "So he started school this year and it was only given as an extramural.  Then we knew we were going to run into problems."

Koffman-Xaba says that it took a lot of sacrifice for her parents to send her to good schools where she could learn English and land a good job in the banking sector.  But, she says she cannot turn her back on her heritage.

"I can't say I regret my mom going to the ends of the world because I am living a better life today," she says.  "But I am deeply saddened to see that my kids can't speak it.  And my kids, when they go to visit family that's still living in the townships, they tend to shy away and avoid them.  Not because they don't like them, but because they just... they don't feel welcome by the fact that they can't speak to the other children.”

Saturday is school day at Amali Academy, located in Amanda's plush home.  Her driveway is packed, her previously neat lawn gutted by tire tracks of the large SUVs parked there.  Parents chat over coffee while kids play around the swimming pool under the watchful eye of a nanny in uniform.

Amanda says she's been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response from parents.  In just two months, it grew from nine pupils to 33 who attend back-to-back classes of Sesotho, isiZulu, isiXhosa and Setswana.

 Rafidwa Mutwané, 31,  says she enrolled her two-year-old son to ensure that the culture, values and traditions she grew up with will be passed on.

“As we move to suburban areas, as we put our children into these English-speaking schools, it gets lost, and I really don't want him to lose that," she explains. "It's for him not to forget his heritage.  I mean, how do you appreciate where you are going if you don't know where you come from?”

Parents say they can't rely on public schools to teach their children African languages.  The recently released national census shows that even today, almost 20 years after the end of apartheid, Afrikaans - the language of white minority rule - remains the most widely studied second language.  Commentators say that it is because it has the reputation of being easier to learn than Zulu, the native tongue of almost a fourth of the population.

Voyani Jones, the mother of a student at Amali Academy, says that black Africans should remedy this situation.

“One, it's difficult for you to find African books which are written in your mother tongue, which is crazy!" she complains. "Now, it means that, as black South Africans, we need to hold ourselves accountable to be teaching our children to speak our languages and also to converse and to transact, in our own languages!  Because actually, Afrikaner people are able to do it.  So, what is stopping us?  It's just because of the fact that we haven't made an effort."

But Jones acknowledges that this concern is not widespread throughout the country.  Much to the contrary, she says that people in the countryside or in the townships often moan the lack of facilities for their children to learn English and thus get a shot at a good job and a better life.

“When I think about it, for the majority of people in South Africa, English is not their first mode of language.  Is it a class thing?  Maybe it is.  Maybe it is.  Ha!  This is interesting.  It might be,” she muses.

The census shows that South Africa remains a deeply unequal country.  Despite progress since apartheid, estimates are it will take 60 years for the average black household to catch up with its white counterpart.  The black population itself is also divided between a sea of poor people and a tiny elite which now shares the white population's way of life and language.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid