Call for compulsory African language

Pretoria - Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande has challenged universities and professional bodies to consider making an official African language other than English and Afrikaans compulsory.

"It would be beneficial to all the students, help strengthen the African language departments and raise the status of African languages," Nzimande said on Thursday at the Higher Education Transformation Summit.

Nzimande stressed the importance of curriculum, adding that some African language departments at leading universities have become weaker over the years.

"Strengthening them is a central strategy in developing the languages of the majority of people, in particular because of the role these departments can play in producing African language teachers and developing African language literature, something that can help in developing a culture of reading among children and young people," he said.

The two-day summit will present the first opportunity for a frank engagement in the sector on the complex issue of transformation.

Dr Nzimande said that transformation should be about more than eradicating the purely racial aspects of apartheid.

"It is essentially about radically changing our society, including our education and training system and all other areas of life to ensure that they can serve the interests of all South Africans in a democratic, equitable and prosperous society.

"It is about confronting the deeply interrelated challenges of class, race and gender inequalities, including confronting the HIV and AIDS pandemic and being an inclusive society for the disabled," he said.

Nzimande also commended steps taken by the higher institutions in changing the legacy of apartheid noting that many African students and those from poor families have gained admittance to opportunities that were formerly unavailable to them.

"The proportion of African students in universities increased from 49 percent in 1995 to 63 percent in 2007 and is estimated to be around two-thirds at present.

"This trend still has some way to go to reach the 79 percent of Africans in the population, but it does show steady and considerable progress since 1994," Dr Nzimande said.

Speaking earlier at the summit, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe emphasised the need for an integrated approach to tackle the human resource needs of the country.

He said it was important to increase the country's human resource capacity by producing high-level and scarce skills that are needed by the economy and for effective service delivery to the population.

"I am convinced that if we can reach a workable consensus on identifying the challenges and solutions to South Africa's education transformation potential, we would be better placed to respond to the five government priorities of education, health, rural development and land reform, creating decent jobs as well as fighting crime and corruption," Motlanthe said.

He also voiced his concerns about the majority of students who do not complete their studies but drop out because they are not suitably prepared for university and technikons.