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'Language policy discriminates'- UB academic

Staff Writer
By choosing to use only two languages, English and Setswana as a medium of instruction in schools, government has formalised some form of cultural discrimination, a University of Botswana academic, Dr. Rebecca Lekoko has stated.

Through this discriminating language policy, government was denying people their birth right identity and culture, the don said.

Dr. Lekoko was speaking yesterday at a roundtable discussion of inequalities and marginalisation in Botswana organised by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).

She said it was disappointing that documents such as the Vision 2016 document advocate for a "linguistically diverse" Botswana, but that there were no policies to ensure that this happens.

"Monoculture is rooted in the belief that we are Batswana in Botswana and speak Setswana. It comes with the assumption that we have and are promoting one culture.  That assumption excludes many other people," she said.

While she admitted that Botswana cannot use all its over 20 languages in schools, government should put in place mechanisms to support teaching in mother tongues.

She said it is surprising that government complains of lack of resources when it comes to implementing the teaching of indigenous languages in Botswana.

"In 1997, the Botswana Language Council recommended the teaching of a third language in schools and government agreed and immediately started the teaching of French in 15 schools. In 2007, the same Council recommended teaching of San languages. But the government resisted the call. 

In 2010, Chinese was introduced at the University of Botswana and nobody questioned the costs of doing that.  It is

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all about commitment," Dr. Lekoko emphasised.

Job Morris, a representative from the Kuru Trust in D'Kar, said as San people, they feel excluded from the socio-political mainstream and are deprived of representation in forums in which someone always speak on their behalf.

"Our chiefs are not recognised.  Government does not recognise the indigenous people of this country," Morris said.  He added that they have been deprived of an opportunity to speak their various San languages in public places.

"Sometimes, as the San people, we are even afraid of speaking our language in a place where there is a national majority. We are regarded as alien because of our clicking tongues," he said. 

He said the fact that they are expected to assimilate into the larger Setswana culture is "an indirect cultural genocide."

A member of the audience who only identified himself as a member of the San tribe from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve agreed with Morris.

"Calling for the use of Setswana is not a form of nation building.  It's a form of colonialist domination. We are not against the fact that Setswana is a national language.  But we are calling for government to also recognise other languages," he said.

OSISA is a non-governmental organisation committed to deepening democracy, protecting human rights and enhancing good governance in Southern Africa.



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