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By Don Makatile | Feb 01, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

IN HIS infinite paranoia, the Afrikaner thinks his language is under threat of extinction in South Africa.

Though this laager mentality is not new, the Boer should be commended for wishing to do something about this fear - misplaced as it is.

It was in pursuance of this regstellende aksie that the FW de Klerk Foundation hosted a conference last Thursday to look at the future of Afrikaans at university level.

According to their programme, they were going to unpack such issues as "implications for Afrikaans in the workplace", "dual medium instruction" and "a multilingual environment that requires promoting academic excellence", and Afrikaans tertiary tuition and its "implications for the broader Afrikaans community".

Over and above De Klerk, in attendance were such language purists and pedantics as Professor Hermann Giliomee, Solidarity's Dirk Hermann, Professor Wannie Carstens of the Foundation for Empowerment through Afrikaans, and their ilk.

A very commendable effort indeed, though, as many commentators have opined before, the Afrikaner, with such an ubiquitous presence on national TV as Noot vir Noot and Voetspore, among other shows, have nothing to fear but their own shadows.

The country teems with non-white communities who jealously regard Afrikaans as their mother tongue. These too are sure to take umbrage at whatever threat, real or imagined, their taal is likely to face.

Not so the black South African indigenous language speakers. After taking their children to formerly white schools and insisting they ditch the vernacular, blacks wouldn't be bothered if their languages died tomorrow.

Former journalist Khaba Mkhize says blacks see the use of English as more civilised. When it comes to the neglect and abuse of his own language, the black man doesn't feel like he's guilty of a crime - he does it wantonly. "In the end," Mkhize says, "our languages will be undermined - by our own hand."

On radio, the use of English surpasses the native languages, even on frequencies meant for the black tongues.

Motsweding FM, a Setswana language radio station, says "we deliver content in Setswana utilising every available dialect (seKgatla, seRolong, seTlhaping, etc)".

This is a blatant lie. Their presenters (well, to their credit, not all) strive to sound like Model C school products. And they are atrocious at this attempt.

Another culprit, Ukhozi FM, claims they are "a full spectrum station that broadcasts in isiZulu ..."

Another lie. Like their peers at Motsweding, Ukhozi presenters speak English on air - bad English!

If Shaka were to wake up tomorrow and tune in, he'd never understand a single word of the gibberish the likes of Linda Sibiya serve the station's 6,67million listeners. This is the same station that had the gumption to employ DJ Sbu, an exponent of the language of the streets, to headline their breakfast show - to disastrous effect.

Word is DJ Sbu's departure came as a result of complaints from listeners about his proficiency, or lack of it, in isiZulu.

If true, that's likely to be a first as, in the words of Mkhize, "it is not in our nature to complain" whenever our languages are slaughtered.

Speakers of English, the fifth most spoken home language in the land, for example, have made it a national pastime to grieve over the diction of black presenters at such stations as SAfm and Radio 2000. The Queen's language, they insist, has to be spoken in a certain way - and that way only.

Sowetan reported on Thursday that celebrity radio face Penny Lebyane was taking over from former magazine editor Busi Mahlaba as the anchor of Motswako, the debut of which airs tonight at 9.30pm on SABC2.

"Last year," our report said, "there was a storm around Mahlaba, with viewers complaining that her Setswana was not up to scratch." The show's content producer, Thato Malebane, wouldn't be drawn on the language issue.

The vivacious Mahlaba could be guilty of anything, but grossly violating Setswana is not one of them.The way she spoke it is in keeping with how black South Africans speak their languages - with a heavy English bias.

When black folk gripe over language, it is those in the know, like Ntombenhle Nkosi, chief executive of the Pan SA Language Board at the time of her publicised distress.

She accused Durban High School in 2007 of discriminating against her son by teaching him sub-standard isiZulu.

Nkosi was adamant it was "kitchen Zulu".

With the Afrikaner, ordinary people like Marietjie Pienaar of Barberton, in Mpumalanga, kick up a fuss over their language.

She sued an agricultural college for R80000 for failing to teach her son Harold in Afrikaans.

The majority of cases before PanSalb, whose mandate is to investigate complaints about language rights violations, comes from the Afrikaners, says spokesperson Sibusiso Nkosi.


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