Afrikaans speaker take South Africa to space, but Afrikaans isn’t good enough for the SA National Space Agency (Sansa)

Adv Anton Alberts

Although an Afrikaans speaking person from an Afrikaans university had taken South Africa into space with its first satellite, there is no place for the country’s third largest language at the SA National Space Agency (SANSA), Adv. Anton Alberts, the FF Plus’ parliamentary spokesperson on science and technology says.

In a reply to a parliamentary question of Adv. Anton Alberts on why Afrikaans cannot be used despite the fact that the language’s vocabulary is sufficiently extensive and developed for the use of technical space technology, the reply merely stated tat English was accepted as ‘language of common purpose’ and Zulu and Sepedi as the other two languages.

Regarding the other two languages’ relevant terminological vocabulary and the contribution that it could therefore make toward a space program, the reply stated that it was an ‘honest attempt’ to involve as many people as possible in the program and that it offers the black languages the opportunity to develop.

Adv. Alberts says it sounds honourable to develop black languages, but the trampling of the language which had been developed to a world language in this specific area, by its users and Afrikaans institutions, without any assistance, is counter-productive and short-sighted.

“It is just once again sending the message that the Afrikaner and its capabilities are welcome, but not its language,” Adv. Alberts says.


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 1. QUESTION NO 1796


“Adv A de W Alberts (FF Plus) to ask the Minister of Science and Technology:

(1) Why has the SA National Space Agency (SANSA) not adopted Afrikaans as one of its official languages in terms of the Use of Official Languages Act, Act 12 of 2012, in spite of the fact that Afrikaans has an extensive lexis for technical space terminology at its command and the first South African satellite was developed successfully by an Afrikaans-speaking student at an Afrikaans-speaking University, namely Stellenbosch University;

(2) (a) what was SANSA’s motivation for each individual official language chosen in terms of the Use of Official Languages Act, Act 12 of 2012, (b) whether each of these specified languages has an extensive lexis for technical space terminology at its command and (c) what contribution each of the specified languages has made to date to the expansion and development of South Africa’s space agency and programme?




(1) In line with the Use of Official Languages Act (Act No. 12 of 2012), SANSA, like any other public entity, has to identify three official languages that it will use for government purposes. The Department of Science and Technology has decided that the Department, together with its entities, will primarily use English as accepted “language of common use”. The Department selected isiZulu and Sepedi given that these are “the most widely spoken first languages in the two biggest language groups (Nguni and Sotho)”, according to the 2011 census. It should also be borne in mind that the Nguni language group (isiZulu, isiXhosa and siSwati) would generally understand isiZulu and, similarly, the Sotho language group (Sesotho, Sepedi and Setswana) would generally understand Sepedi. This is not to down play the role of Afrikaans or any of the other official languages in science and technology communication. In line with the South African National Constitution, SANSA permits the use of all eleven official languages in the normal life and operations of its employees at work. This will continue and has never been prohibited. Further, Section 4.2 of SANSA’s draft language policy makes it clear that “SANSA will not be restricted to the three languages of English, isiZulu and Sepedi in communications and may include any of the other eleven official languages should it deem it necessary.” Therefore, selecting one or the other language to reach a targeted public community in a particular region or area is still permissible, budget permitting. The desire is to reach as many of the country’s public communities as possible and not to exclude any specific language group.

(2) (a) The motivation was the noble desire to reach the largest portion of the South African population as reasonably as possible. This is not to say the other language groups are less important. Indeed, more languages may be added in the future, funds permitting.

(b) The intention is to develop the lexicon in these languages in these languages. As per its Language Policy, SANSA will partner with University linguistic departments to provide assistance in terminology development and translation services.

(c) South Africa’s past is such that the biggest language groups’ contribution to the country’s space programme has been limited. However, in recent times, all eleven official language groups have since contributed to SANSA and the space programmes in various forms including in the form of being employees of SANSA, stakeholders of SANSA, and recipients of the products and services of the programme.