Delegates of the civil rights organisation AfriForum will be attending the twelfth session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva, Switzerland for the next two days. The theme for this year’s event is “Education, Language and Human Rights of Minorities”. AfriForum intends to highlight the government’s violation of the rights of the speakers of indigenous South African languages, especially Afrikaans, at this event.
Alana Bailey, AfriForum’s Head of Cultural Affairs, is representing the organisation at this event. According to her, it is necessary for the international community to take note via this platform of the South African government’s ongoing attacks against Afrikaans education. The inadequate protection provided by constitutional institutions such as the Pan South African Language Council (PANSALB) and courts for language rights, as well as the lack of political will to promote indigenous languages in general, can result in a large-scale Anglicization of all sectors.
“Language rights, especially the right to mother-tongue education, are paramount to AfriForum. We see how the lack of mother-tongue education causes fewer people to obtain high quality qualifications at tertiary level. This has wide-ranging adverse effects for the economic, social welfare and many other sectors.”
When the constitutional right to Afrikaans mother-tongue education is claimed, government officials and ideologists wantonly use it to ascribe to all kinds of invalid motives, such as a supposed yearning for apartheid, or the pursuit of exclusivity to Afrikaans speakers.
“Communities are thus being polarised and people are losing the confidence to use their own language, which only impairs them further,” says Bailey.
The government is letting down all indigenous South African languages and the result is that people are increasingly using bad English.
“This not only causes the said drop in literacy levels in the country, but also, for example, life-threatening situations in the workplace or health services, because workers and instructors, or patients and medical practitioners are unable to understand each other properly. Thereby more human rights are being compromised,” she adds.
This session of the Forum on Minority Issues will also examine best practices, for example, in drafting language policies to promote language rights. AfriForum has, in the fourteen years of its existence, gained valuable experience in this regard which they can share with other delegates. The event also offers the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other language groups.
By highlighting the matter at this UN forum, AfriForum hopes to apply increasing pressure on the South African government to recognise and respect the rights of the speakers of all indigenous South African languages – in the public and private sectors.