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[LISTEN] The Baqonde Project

Sep 02, 2021

Umm Muhammed Umar

Dr Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst, the Acting Director of the Language Planning and Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and currently the chairperson of the KwaZulu Natal South African Translators Institute, spoke to Radio Islam about UKZN’s collaboration with other universities across South Africa and Europe to facilitate and promote the use of indigenous African languages as a medium of instruction in tertiary institutions.

An organized nationwide development strategy for the South Africa project, called ‘Baqonde’, has been established to effectively respond to one of South Africa’s national priorities: the development of African languages within higher education. Baqonde is a collaborative project between European and South African Higher Education Institutions tot

Dr Makhubu-Badenhorst believes that being educated in one’s mother tongue is very important. She says that Africa is the only continent where students study in a foreign language, and that this impacts on their performance. She added that the African languages have been disadvantaged for many, many years, and are now being revived in order for students to perform well academically. The professor says that the problem begins at school level, where subjects such as Mathematics and Physics are taught in the morning, and the African languages only in the afternoon, as if they were an afterthought.

Another issue that Dr Makhubu-Badenhorst highlighted was that people who were teaching African languages were not qualified to do so, but had been tasked to teach merely on the basis of being able to speak that language. She asked, “if you’re not educated in that particular language, you haven’t done linguistics and literature, you haven’t studied the language, how can you teach it?” she says that both schools and universities must prioritise African languages and ensure that they are not marginalized, and that resources are allocated to them. Dr Makhubu-Badenhorst said that the Baqonde project aimed at pushing for resources to be allocated to training teachers regarding African languages, amongst other goals. She adds that with the high unemployment rate in the country there has to be those who would be interested in taking this idea forward. Failure to engage the right people would simply indicate a lack of political will.

The Professor lamented that many parents held the view that if their children were not fluent in English, they were not intelligent. She says that the purpose of the project was not to replace English. Instead, it was to educate them on concepts in a language that they understood, so that they would further be able to impart that knowledge.

Elaborating on the project, Dr Makhubu-Badenhorst said that it was a collaboration of South African and international universities. There are various work packages shared across the universities for the promotion of African languages. At UKZN, for example, 25 educators will be trained and equipped with the necessary skills to teach isiZulu. Following this three-year project, the onus will be on universities sustain and expand it.

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