Rhodes University, a member of BAQONDE, joined the world in celebrating the 21st anniversary of the International Mother Language Day webinar on 21 February 2021.
This commemorative event, organized by African Language Studies Section of the School of Languages & Literatures in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Provincial Department of Education attracted over 150 participants who included members of senior management at Rhodes, government dignitaries, language practitioners, academics and students from various institutions, as well as BAQONDE partners. Over 1 600 people also followed the proceedings on Facebook and YouTube.
Addressing participants, the Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, Prof. Sizwe Mabizela, underscored the significance of the International Mother Language Day in South Africa, drawing parallels between its origins in Bangladesh and the 1976 Soweto uprising in which many students lost their lives in a struggle against the imposition of Afrikaans at the expense of South Africa’s indigenous languages. He remarked, “For South Africa, the International Mother Language Day is as much the celebration of the progress that South Africa has made in its quest for a proudly multilingual society, promotion and development of indigenous languages as well as the conscientization of our society about the enormous work that still needs to be done”. In that respect, Prof. Mabizela expressed excitement at the prospects of BAQONDE as a game changer in infusing and consolidating multilingualism in South African institutions of higher learning, noting that it “ seeks to consolidate isiXhosa and other African languages in the higher education curriculum not just as objects of study but also as a medium of instruction”.
The Vice Chancellor’s address was a fitting prelude to informative presentations by Prof. Kathleen Heugh from the University of South Australia and Dr. Naledi Mbude, a seasoned firebrand champion of multilingual education in South Africa. Prof. Heugh’s presentation offered a global perspective on multilingualism, and endorsed multilingualism as a necessary enabler in the intellectual struggle of the continent to become a key player in global knowledge production. Dr. Mbude expressed the Department of Education’s commitment to multilingual education, which has been demonstrated by the historic 2020 Grade 12 preliminary examinations which were conducted in isiXhosa in Maths, Geography and History. In this context, the role of BAQONDE may never be emphasized enough.