Approximately 25 different languages are spoken in South Africa, of which 11 have been granted official status in terms of section 6 of the Constitution (Act No. 108 of 1996), on the grounds that their usage includes about 98% of the total population. The 11 official languages are isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu and siSwati (referred to as the Nguni language group); Sesotho, Sepedi and Setswana (referred to as the Sotho language group); Tshivenda, Xitsonga, English and Afrikaans. South Africa is therefore a multilingual country. A striking characteristic of multilingualism in South Africa is the fact that several indigenous languages are spoken across provincial borders; shared by speech communities from different provinces. There is currently a strong awareness of the need to intensify efforts to develop the previously marginalised indigenous languages and to promote multilingualism if South Africans are to be liberated from undue reliance on the use of non-indigenous languages as the dominant, official languages of the state. Management of linguistic diversity in post-apartheid South Africa has been made problematic by the lack of a clearly defined language policy, leading to the use of English and Afrikaans as the most dominant languages in the socio-economic and political domains of its society. The Policy Framework not only initiates a fresh approach to multilingualism in South Africa, but strongly encourages the use of the indigenous languages as official languages in order to foster and promote national unity. It takes into account the broad acceptance of linguistic diversity, social justice, the principle of equal access to public services and programmes, and respect for language rights.
Department of Arts and Culture
National language and book policies
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