South African university makes Zulu compulsory

A man holds a copy of a Zulu language newspaper in Durban, South Africa (20 March 2011) Some 80% of people in KwaZulu-Natal speak Zulu

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A leading South African university says it will make Zulu language classes compulsory for all first-year students from next year.

The decision by the University of KwaZulu-Natal is aimed at promoting "nation-building and bringing diverse languages together", an official said.

Zulu is among the most widely spoken of South Africa's 11 official languages.

It is the mother tongue for about 23% of the population and is also used as a lingua franca by many others.

However, few people from minority racial groups speak it.

This is the first time a South African university has made it compulsory for students to learn an indigenous African language, the local Mercury newspaper reports.


University of KwaZulu-Natal Deputy Vice-Chancellor Renuka Vithal told the BBC the decision would help students obtain a vital communication skill for their professional and personal lives.

Who speaks South African?

  • Zulu: mother tongue for 23% of the population
  • Xhosa: 16%
  • Afrikaans: 14%
  • English: 10%
  • Sepedi: 9%
  • Setswana: 8%
  • Sesotho: 8%

Source: Census 2001

"You can come through the schooling system without learning any of the indigenous African languages," she said.

"It is surprising that this is still the case, nearly 20 years after apartheid [racially-enforced segregation] ended."

The university is located in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, where Zulu is the mother tongue of most people.

Until white minority rule ended in 1994, English and Afrikaans, based on Dutch, were South Africa's only official languages.

The African National Congress (ANC) government - which took power after apartheid ended - has done little to promote indigenous languages, critics say.

Zulu is spoken by more than 80% of people in KwaZulu-Natal, AFP news agency reports.

It is the only African language in which a major daily newspaper is produced.

Related languages are also spoken in some neighbouring countries.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    If a Afrikaans was made compulsory in Universities such as Pretoria, NWU and Stellenbosch there would be a massive protest.... Zuma is Zulu, need I say more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Probably would be better to have grammar schools taught in both tribal language and English so everyone has a common language to trade in - but gets to keep their own language. English because it picks up phrases from other languages - and would become SA English just as there is both American, Canadian, and Australian English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The irony is I grew up in Apartheid SA almost 30 years ago and we were taught the local indigenous language starting at Primary School.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    18 Bradley

    "forcing people to a learn a language that they don't want to learn is at best, stupid and, at worst, downright devisive"

    Well 3 languages, Latin German and French were compulsory in my school and although I resented having to learn them I am eternally grateful that I did

    It is wonderful visiting countries where it is appreciated if they aren't addressed in English

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    SA is sadly riven by tribalism (that includes those of European stock of course).

    So: this could be very good, if, by learning a common language a greater mutual insight is gained. However, this could equally appear as oppression by one powerful group, the Zulu.

    Far better would be the requirement to learn a second, relevant language, whatever that might be, rather than necessarily Zulu.


Comments 5 of 37


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