Our Language, Our Pride and its Role

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By Beven Liswani Kamwi

MY paper seeks to address what I consider imbalances and shortcomings in Namibia’s working language document, also known as the language policy, and its accountability towards indigenous Languages. 

The Language document serves as a guiding tool for language policies, planning and implementation in Namibia. First and foremost, lets us be reminded that the aim of Namibia’s struggle for independence was not only for land or self-actualization, but the total emancipation of Namibians in all spheres. This total emancipation also encompasses advancement, continuous development and sustainability of our identity or culture. There is a clear link between culture/identity and language, hence the latter is always a repository of culture. Considering this, the fundamental requirement of who we are is our own languages in our all ethnic diversity. In essence, the language policy was and is obliged to have taken into consideration the then indigenous language deprivation and disadvantages contributed by the colonial legacy. Looking back to the pre- independence era, one can clearly discern a situation which provided a monopolistic and unceremonial platform for Afrikaans to enjoy the status of official language at the expense of indigenous languages. This was the case since it was the mother-tongue of the colonial masters. Thus, one can deduce that the Afrikaans language was also one of the powerful weapons [figuratively speaking] that the apartheid regime made use of to enforce their unpopular rule on the indigenous masses of Namibia. This brings me to the thorny issue, which is to takes a look at the powerful role languages play in any society. 

It is of utmost importance to note that the issue of language can be both constructive and destructive at the same time. By that I mean, if planned and implemented well, language policy can indeed build a nation. Aa case in point in this regard is Namibia, where the language policy serves as a unifier based on the acceptance of a neutral language – English, as the official language and medium of instruction. However, on one hand, if not wisely implemented, language can create unintended consequences, such as civil strife as the various ethnic identies fight for survival and jostle for dominance of their own languages. In view of this I am afraid that Namibia’s language policy has many shortcomings, as far as addressing the past language imbalances are concerned. This seems to be the case because the language policy does not, to a large extent, provide for the development and advancement of indigenous languages, which should have been its priority. This provision I refer to entails the allocation of equal resources, both in material and monetary terms, to the development of local languages in order to elevate them to the same level and status as that enjoyed by foreign languages, specifically English.

Indigenous languages lag behind in many respects, because of many deficiencies, apart from the fact that less is spent on their development and advancement, if anything at all. Moreover, they are also not receiving the same attention or are even ignored, in terms of time, money and human resource allocation.

Moreover, the worst thing that one notices is the prevalent situation wherein the languages of the world’s powerful economies, such as French (France), English (UK and USA), Chinese (China), Japanese (Japan) and so on are marketed aggressively in developing countries, including Namibia. In view of this, let it be borne in mind that the massive investment and marketing of a country’s own language(s) also translates into fostering their own culture and identity. Due to the benefits that these powerful economies can offer if you adopt their languages, many developing countries are left with no choice but to play along with the status quo, not knowing that their own languages are left in a state of regression. Owing to this, it is paramount for policy makers to time and again go back to the drawing board to revisit and revise the language policy in an effort to model one that is responsive to its people. 

This would entail a redress of the noted inequalities and shortcomings in the areas that are disadvantageous to the development of our own indigenous languages. 

Although the existence of local laguage services on NBC is commendable, it is by far not enough in terms of promoting and preserving our indigenous tongues. 

Henceforth, much more than this needs to be done, starting with an overall relook of the language policy document, and to create conditions under which our local languages can thrive and grow. However, this will require a change of attitude and perception towards indigenous languages versus English and other foreign languages. 

In conclusion, at least a situation like that obtaing in Botswana would be a step in the right direction for us, where one of their national languages (Setswana), to a large extent but not totally, enjoys equal status and is used side by side with English in many of that country’s domains. 

Beven Liswani kamwi holds a Master of Arts (English Studies) degree from the University of Namibia and is currently an English lecturer at the International University of Management (IUM). 

He writes in his personal capacity.

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