Using African languages at universities in South Africa: The struggle continues

  • Richard N. Madadzhe Faculty of Humanities University of Limpopo
Keywords: African languages, Afrocentricity, decolonisation, higher education, language of teaching and learning


Both the advent of democracy in 1994 and the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in 1996 kindled hope that ultimately official African languages, in addition to English and Afrikaans, would soon be utilised as languages of teaching and learning throughout the education sector of South Africa. However, in spite of government efforts and significant measures assumed by both private and public institutions to promote the use of African languages, this article reveals that the use of African languages in higher education still leaves much to be desired. This article presents a variety of causes for this state of affairs such as globalisation, economic factors, negative attitudes towards African languages and a lack of will or confidence by both students and university officials to take the plunge in using African languages in teaching and learning. Furthermore, developments in the country around issues such as #RhodesMustFall, decolonisation and Africanisation of higher education curricula, as well as the imminent introduction of the Revised Language Policy for Higher Education in 2019 make it imperative to make a reappraisal of the possibility of utilising African languages at universities in South Africa. Finally, the article argues that it is high time to walk the talk because debating the relevance of African languages in teaching and learning at universities in South Africa cannot take place indefinitely. Indeed, it has to come to a stop somewhere considering that for the past 50 years, scholars have been debating the aptness of African languages in education in general. The present analysis hinges on two theoretical frameworks, that is, Sociocultural theory and Afrocentricity.