After a thought-provoking talk at Think!Fest by Elinor Sisulu on the digital and literacy divide in South Africa, the FJP’s had a lot to say on the topic. Sisulu outlined the fact that most South African children although born in the digital era, do not have access to the internet. Furthermore, they do not have access to literature and learning material in their own African languages. As the discussion progressed it became apparent that the reason for this was that English and international content was taking over. The opinions varied on whether this was a good thing or whether something should be done to change it.
“African content has lost the recognition it deserves because we as Africans have turned our backs on our values. We tend to support Western content and see ours as being inferior.”
“It is good and well to tell Africans to sustain their nationality and embrace their languages; however, it is essential that we look at the bigger picture. Where can your African language take you in the job market? There are so few careers that embody this premise of African content.”
“South African indigenous knowledge is in threat due to Western cultures via books, internet and the media. The new generation saw a high decline in the oral traditions of the past, inherited from earlier generations. Public awareness of indigenous knowledge through the use of the media is crucial.”
“There is no user friendly content in Northern Sotho because African writers adopt the style used by western artists. There are no African roots because we grew up in the world of ICT, losing African internal structures.”
“Closing the digital divide is almost every African citizen’s responsibility. The schools labelled ‘black schools’ should introduce learners to the digital world and emphasize the importance of African languages.”
“Africa consumes over 80% of Western content and that has a massive impact on our culture and perception of us as African people. This causes us to shun our own content.”
“It’s amazing how the main stream is overflowing with westernised publications and thus narrows African youth thought processes to consume and comprehend their indigenous languages, and that’s a shame, embarrassing.”
“People are simply stepping into the shoes of the Western cultures, eroding the African culture. African content is very important because it preserves our culture.”
“Africa has lost its identity. We don’t take pride in our own languages. I feel like parents are to be partly blamed for this notion of identity crisis.”
“As a linguistics student, I’ve seen field work in SA showing that African children prefer to be learning in English. More urgent than providing African language content, is changing their views that their own mother tongue languages are inferior."
After further discussion, the FJP’s concluded that the main problem was that African languages are viewed by their own people as inferior to English and other Western languages. This, we thought, was because of schools, universities, private corporations, government corporations and media that endorse this idea and push Western content toward people. If these organisations, particularly the private sector and government, could come on board in promoting a more positive attitude towards indigenous languages then people’s views would begin to change. Only once this attitude has been changed can we address the lack of digital and hardcopy material in our African languages.