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Heritage Day – Celebrating the Indigenous Languages




Posted: 24 September 2019

Every year on 24 September South Africa celebrates Heritage Day to recognise the cultural wealth of the nation. The day remembers the cultural heritage of the many cultures that symbolises our “rainbow nation”.

It is important to acknowledge and celebrate our heritage as it is the foundation of all communities, our heritage is an essential source of identity and continuity. We draw contemporary activities, meaning and behaviours form it. Our heritage further promotes cultural diversity, social cohesion, reconciliation, peace and economic development.

This year’s theme: “Celebrating South Africa’s literacy classics in the year of indigenous language,” is in line with United Nations declarations of 2019 as “the Year of Indigenous Languages” to afford the international community to develop, promote and collectively celebrate the languages.

South Africa has 34 historically established languages, thirty are living languages and four (all Khoesan) are extinct. However, the Constitution recognises 11 official languages, known as Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, isiXhosa; Xitsonga and isiZulu. 

Of the official languages, nine African languages can be divided into the following groups:

  • Nguni-Tsonga languages: isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, and Xitsonga.
  • Sotho-Makua-Venda languages: Sesotho, Sepedi, Setswana, and Tshivenda.

Within the first group, Xitsonga alone falls into the Tswa-Ronga subfamily, while isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiNdebele and siSwati are Nguni languages. Similarly, Sesotho, Sepedi, and Setswana are closely related to Sotho languages while Tshivenda is standalone in the Sotho-Makua-Venda subfamily.

English is an urban language of public life and is widely used as a second language and common language of communication, mainly in the cities.

Afrikaans is a version of Dutch that evolved out of a South Holland dialect brought here in the 1600s. Over the centuries it has picked up many influences from African languages, as well as from European colonial languages such as English, French and German.

Early this year in February 2019, the Department of Arts and Culture emphasised the need to preserve our indigenous languages. The department further highlighted that we need to promote a culture of reading in all local languages. The nation is also encouraged to promote a culture of writing and publishing in all local languages as books written in the South African indigenous languages are few and hard to find.

According to the National Library Executive Director, Eddie Maepa “the output of indigenous languages is low because when publishers source material to publish they prefer English because it sells”.

It is then vital that we become a nation that can read its indigenous languages, not only to increase the output of indigenous written books but to preserve our identities. The government cannot do this alone, this responsibility falls upon everyone in civil society.
Previous News Pages: 1 2 3

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