[lg policy] Namibia: Our Language, Our Pride and its Role

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 6 15:20:22 UTC 2014

 Our Language, Our Pride and its Role

 *By Beven Liswani Kamwi*

*MY* paper seeks to address what I consider imbalances and shortcomings in
Namibia’s working language document, also known as the language policy, and
its accountability towards indigenous Languages.

The Language document serves as a guiding tool for language policies,
planning and implementation in Namibia. First and foremost, lets us be
reminded that the aim of Namibia’s struggle for independence was not only
for land or self-actualization, but the total emancipation of Namibians in
all spheres. This total emancipation also encompasses advancement,
continuous development and sustainability of our identity or culture. There
is a clear link between culture/identity and language, hence the latter is
always a repository of culture. Considering this, the fundamental
requirement of who we are is our own languages in our all ethnic diversity.
In essence, the language policy was and is obliged to have taken into
consideration the then indigenous language deprivation and disadvantages
contributed by the colonial legacy. Looking back to the pre- independence
era, one can clearly discern a situation which provided a monopolistic and
unceremonial platform for Afrikaans to enjoy the status of official
language at the expense of indigenous languages. This was the case since it
was the mother-tongue of the colonial masters. Thus, one can deduce that
the Afrikaans language was also one of the powerful weapons [figuratively
speaking] that the apartheid regime made use of to enforce their unpopular
rule on the indigenous masses of Namibia. This brings me to the thorny
issue, which is to takes a look at the powerful role languages play in any

It is of utmost importance to note that the issue of language can be both
constructive and destructive at the same time. By that I mean, if planned
and implemented well, language policy can indeed build a nation. Aa case in
point in this regard is Namibia, where the language policy serves as a
unifier based on the acceptance of a neutral language – English, as the
official language and medium of instruction. However, on one hand, if not
wisely implemented, language can create unintended consequences, such as
civil strife as the various ethnic identies fight for survival and jostle
for dominance of their own languages. In view of this I am afraid that
Namibia’s language policy has many shortcomings, as far as addressing the
past language imbalances are concerned. This seems to be the case because
the language policy does not, to a large extent, provide for the
development and advancement of indigenous languages, which should have been
its priority. This provision I refer to entails the allocation of equal
resources, both in material and monetary terms, to the development of local
languages in order to elevate them to the same level and status as that
enjoyed by foreign languages, specifically English.

Indigenous languages lag behind in many respects, because of many
deficiencies, apart from the fact that less is spent on their development
and advancement, if anything at all. Moreover, they are also not receiving
the same attention or are even ignored, in terms of time, money and human
resource allocation.

Moreover, the worst thing that one notices is the prevalent situation
wherein the languages of the world’s powerful economies, such as French
(France), English (UK and USA), Chinese (China), Japanese (Japan) and so on
are marketed aggressively in developing countries, including Namibia. In
view of this, let it be borne in mind that the massive investment and
marketing of a country’s own language(s) also translates into fostering
their own culture and identity. Due to the benefits that these powerful
economies can offer if you adopt their languages, many developing countries
are left with no choice but to play along with the status quo, not knowing
that their own languages are left in a state of regression. Owing to this,
it is paramount for policy makers to time and again go back to the drawing
board to revisit and revise the language policy in an effort to model one
that is responsive to its people.

This would entail a redress of the noted inequalities and shortcomings in
the areas that are disadvantageous to the development of our own indigenous

Although the existence of local laguage services on NBC is commendable, it
is by far not enough in terms of promoting and preserving our indigenous

Henceforth, much more than this needs to be done, starting with an overall
relook of the language policy document, and to create conditions under
which our local languages can thrive and grow. However, this will require a
change of attitude and perception towards indigenous languages versus
English and other foreign languages.

In conclusion, at least a situation like that obtaining in Botswana would
be a step in the right direction for us, where one of their national
languages (Setswana), to a large extent but not totally, enjoys equal
status and is used side by side with English in many of that country’s


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