The South African University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), in Durban, is making Zulu language compulsory for anyone who wants to enroll in the institution’s courses starting on 2014. This move would promote cultural and linguistic cohesion and ensure every graduate is bilingual in a multi-racial and multi-linguistic country.
Why Make Zulu Compulsory?
Currently, students can go through all the educational stages without ever having to learn South Africa’s most widely spoken language. Even though only 8.2 percent of the population speaks English at home, this language comes first in business, politics and the media, even after 20 years have passed since the end of apartheid. UKZN’s measure is thus trying to reinforce a sense of nation and communion within a country which is still divided.
Difficulties in the Process
Already 60 per cent of the students who enrol in UKZN speak Zulu, the majority of which speak the language at home. For the rest, the university still has to find a way in which to put the theory into practice. Second-language courses are best profited from if the classrooms are small and the relationship between the teacher and the student is closer. This means UKZN would be unable to offer multitudinous lectures, which are generally more cost efficient. A second related problem springs from the lack of Zulu language teachers.
Another difficulty lies on the need to make students realize the importance of learning an African second language, which triggered the motivation that would turn the program from a mandatory to a voluntary one. If students fail to acknowledge the benefit of dedicating their time to learning Zulu instead of focusing on other courses they might consider more important, the program is doomed to fail. The university’s aim, however, is to eventually become a dual-medium institution, where language would become a tool with which to learn rather than a course students are tested on.
In response to the possibility of having students choosing to study in a different university when faced with the obligation to learn Zulu, UKZN deputy vice-chancellor Professor Renuka Vithal stated she believed the majority of students would decide to support UKZN for the opportunity it will offer.