[lg policy] South Africa: A multilingual Wits University: Sesotho and isiZulu adoption

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Apr 11 14:24:17 UTC 2015

A multilingual Wits: Sesotho and isiZulu adoption

*Wits University is tabling a multilingual policy that will incorporate
Sesotho and isiZulu as co-languages, along with English as an official part
of campus life, in and outside the classroom.*

The policy also proposes that SA Sign Language be included. The new policy
proposal comes as a recommendation from the Strategic Planning Division
which conducted a surveyed study of Wits students, academic staff,
professional and support services staff and employees in outsourced
services. The study indicates that the number of Sesotho and IsiZulu
speaking members of the Wits community are more or less equal.

Associate Professor of Linguistics, Tommaso Milani, told the Wits Vuvuzela
that the proposal has prompted the shift from a bilingual to a multilingual
policy, the languages don’t compete, and that they are just used by
speakers differently. The professor recognizes a need for broader
visibility in the public space of local languages in places such as logos,
for instance.”

*Despite 2003 adoption, Sesotho language policy never implemented*

The previous language policy was adopted in 2003 where the university
committed to developing Sesotho as a medium of instruction together with
English. This meant researching and developing teaching resources along
with developing the linguistic abilities of staff and students alike.

The translation of key documents such as application forms and rules,
translation services in disciplinary hearings as well as multilingual and
multicultural practices at ceremonies like graduations were some of the
measures planned under the policy. However, despite the plans, the Sesotho
language policy was never implemented by Wits.

Milani told the university paper that the previous policy was a ‘symbolic
policy’, and no real progress was made on the ground to develop and
implement Sesotho on campus. He said the policy was a document that
indicated the university’s “good intentions” in relation to multilingualism
but was never translated into real actions.

“The need was identified but on the whole, no real concerted efforts were
made,” reiterated Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academics, Professor Andrew

*Financial aspect of policy implementation*

According to Milani, to avoid the pitfalls that struck the previous
language policy, the university would have to make sure financial resources
were allocated for the implementation of the new language policy. Any
policy would remain “symbolic” if no or too little money is set aside for
its implementation, said Milani.

Crouch agreed that in order for the project to make Wits multilingual, it
would have to be budgeted for, as it is expected to be successful.

“You don’t have to lose culture in the sea of economics,” Crouch said.

Multilingualism is a part of the curriculum for Wits Medical School where
students have to complete a local language course for them to graduate.

Talks on this multilingual language policy will continue until August and
students and staff are encouraged to voice their opinion. Milani said that
he hopes the policy will “espouse equality in a truly genuine way.”

– Michelle Gumede
and Wendy Nyoni


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