Box #2: Language Policy & Literacy

Case Study of South Africa

"During the apartheid era, Afrikaans [the colonial language introduced by the Dutch - a Dutch dialect] and English were used as gate keepers for political power and dominance, as instruments for preserving certain privileges for whites, and ultimately as tools for unfair and unequal distribution of the country's economic resources." (Phaswana, 2003, p. 120) [Note 1]

In 1976, there were student uprisings against the language policies (a movie was made about this - Sarafina).

"After nearly half a century of apartheid rule . . . the Republic of South Africa adopted a new democratic Constitution that provides for eleven official language: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setwsana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, and isiZulu." (Phaswana, 2003, p. 117).

  1. Look on map quest or some other map program and find South Africa ( Soweto ) on the map.
  2. Review the following web sites
    4. Review the website of Cape Town University, University of the Western Cape , or University of Pretoria to identify the work that is happening there around language policy, literacy, and SPPA services to diverse cultural and linguistic groups.
  1. Look up and review the Founding Language Provision in the Constitution on the web.
  2. What is the economic and political context in which the old and more recent language policies were established in South Africa ? In other words, what else was going on in South Africa made the government perceive that it was necessary to establish English and Afrikaans as official languages at first, and then eleven official languages later?
  3. What is the status of education in the national and/or official languages?
  4. What groups have immigrated to South Africa ? What role will these ethnic groups play in the linguistic aspect of South Africa ?
  5. What about the languages of the indigenous people in South Africa ? What is the status of their language?
  6. From your readings, what do you think the de facto language policy is in South Africa ?
  7. Discuss the impact that this language policy may have on effective services for individuals from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
  8. Another useful source may be: Smitherman, G. (2000). Language policy, politics, and power. In G. Smitherman, Talkin' that talk: Language, culture, and education in African America (pp. 314-333). NY: Routledge.

For the class presentation, lead us in a discussion about the situation in South Africa , and the three tasks outlined in the syllabus (page 3):

    1. Identify the problem(s) in South Africa
    2. Analyze the problems from various perspectives
    3. Propose various strategies for addressing the problem(s)
  1. Phaswana, N. (2003). Contradition or affirmation? The South African language policy and the South African national government. In S. Makoni , G. Smitherman, A. Ball, and A. Spears (Eds). Black linguistics: Language, society, and politics in Africa and the Americas (pp. 117 - 131). NY: Routledge.

Copyright © Yvette D. Hyter May 2004