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Theme of International Mother Language Day highlights how far South Africa has veered off course

The theme of this year's International Mother Language Day, which strongly emphasises mother-tongue education, shows just how far South Africa has veered off course in this regard.

Government has created an environment in which the social construct of mother tongue has unravelled to such an extent that even young university students believe that it no longer has a place in the country's educational system.

What has transpired at the University of Stellenbosch over the last few years serves as proof.

The theme of 2023's Mother Language Day is: "multilingual education – a necessity to transform education".

It is in line with recommendations made during the United Nations' (UN) summit on transforming education, where a lot of emphasis was placed on indigenous people's education and languages.

Multilingual education based on mother tongue facilitates access to and inclusion in learning for population groups that speak non-dominant languages, languages of minority groups and indigenous languages.

It almost seems as if this theme was chosen with South Africa in mind. Surely, there are very few places in the world where it is more applicable than South Africa with its eleven official languages and myriad of dialects with which each speaker is comfortable and skilled in their particular region.

Quite the opposite has happened in South Africa under ANC rule, though.

A colonial language has, ironically enough, been elevated to a formal colloquial language, so, the recognition of the country's eleven official languages was a meaningless gesture.

When the point is reached where young university students believe their fellow students do not have the right to speak their own language, not even in private conversations in their own spaces, it is clear that the ideal of mother-tongue usage in South Africa has been utterly destroyed.

It is obviously not aligned with the ideals and recommendations of the international community and the UN.

It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC), which has the power and capacity to do so, delivers a ruling on the issue of mother-tongue language as soon as possible.

What is happening at the US can be used as an example. At the beginning of 2021, Afrikaans students at the US were prohibited from speaking Afrikaans.

The FF Plus and some of the students themselves lodged a complaint with the HRC. An investigation was conducted and concluded in October 2022.

The process is, however, being delayed because "all interested parties" have not yet submitted comments on the HRC's preliminary findings.

In the FF Plus's view, this needless waste of time is unacceptable. It is allowing the toxic situation at the University to keep brewing while it is causing irreparable damage to social relationships between students.

A mother tongue is of the utmost importance to all its speakers. It is part of their identity. The same is true for Afrikaans speakers.

The monument on the hill behind Paarl serves as proof.

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