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No Reason to Grant Official Status to Indigenous Languages – Ekandjo

Swapo parliamentarian Jerry Ekandjo says the Namibian Constitution acknowledges English as the sole official language and he sees no reason to amend it to grant official status to the country’s indigenous languages.

Ekandjo argues that people should adhere to the provisions already present in the Constitution.

Ekandjo was pushing for two private member’s bills aiming to ban same-sex marriage and redefine the term “spouse” in the Constitution, despite criticism that the bills might violate the principles of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in the Constitution.

“The official language is English and people don’t have a problem. The Constitution says so. You want me to make amendments to the Constitution? We follow what the Constitution says,” Ekandjo said.

Ekandjo said this during a conversation with Desert Radio last week on the importance of Namibia adopting indigenous languages constitutionally.

“We speak English because when we officially communicate with the outside world, we cannot officially talk in Oshiwambo or Otjiherero,” Ekandjo said.

Neighbouring South Africa last month enhanced its progressive language policy, by recognising Sign Language as its 12th official language.

Sociology lecturer Ellison Tjirera, who also joined the conversation, highlighted the contradiction in Ekandjo’s stance, saying while Ekandjo advocates following the Constitution, he is also challenging it through his private member’s bills.

“We have been talking about indigenous knowledge systems for quite some time now and it is something that is paramount for development and the fact that a lawmaker cannot grasps the importance of language in development, in identity is quite troublesome.

“I must say I’m disappointed that the honourable member doesn’t understand the importance of indigenous languages,” Tjirera said.

Tjirera said language plays a fundamental role in defining a person and demanding recognition from others. He pointed out instances where governors, speaking in English in regions where Otjiherero or Oshiwambo are the predominant languages, fail to effectively communicate with the majority of their audience.

He pointed out the notion that English is equated with intelligence, which disregards the value of indigenous languages.

“What is the point of speaking in English if most of the people in the room cannot properly understand English? English seems to have been taken to mean some kind of intelligence, which is very problematic,” Tjirera said.

He stressed the need to translate government policies and international instruments into indigenous languages, saying this is crucial to ensuring that all people can comprehend how these policies impact their communities.

“Indigenous language is of paramount importance, it goes to the very identity of people. Any development that is worth its salt should be understood by those that it is meant to impact,” Tjirera said.

Tjirera said Namibia is reluctant to take the required steps to establish an independent language policy.

“There is nothing wrong with speaking other languages, but we also have our own languages. Why are they not given prominence? Are we really independent if at that very basic level of language, we are not prepared to put in the serious work?” Tjirera said.