Historic moment as first Khoekhoegowab language students graduate from UCT | Western Cape Government


Historic moment as first Khoekhoegowab language students graduate from UCT

2 December 2019

The University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport (DCAS) took a major step towards reviving the language of the Khoi and San people on Friday 29 November 2019 when students graduated from the first ever Khoekhoegowab language course at a recognised tertiary institution.

UCT launched the 12-week course in early 2019 as a result of collaboration between its Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, its Centre for African Studies and the A/Xarra Restorative Justice Forum.

Dr June Bam, Head of the Centre for African Studies and acting Chair for the UCT Language Committee, explained that the completion of the course could be a very significant moment in the search for restorative justice. “This was an erased language of the Western Cape that was taken away through genocide and a whole complex history around that,” Dr Bam said. “The language was still spoken in the 1940s. My mother could speak it and she was taught by her great-aunt. There are a lot of people who are now in their late 80s who remember this language being spoken by their grandparents.”

The course is a foundations course and taught the participants the pronunciation of the vowels, consonants and clicks. Those who completed it are now able to hold a basic conversation and will qualify to enter the intermediate course that has been planned for 2020.

Dr Bam says the University is also planning to create an advanced course in future, with the aim of making Khoekhoegowab the fourth language of UCT and making the courses mainstream as part of a major in degree qualifications.

One of the participants who graduated on Friday, Rian Baartman, is also a member of the Western Cape Language Committee – the organisation that monitors and advises the Department of all things related to language in the province. “It is something that has been in our family for a long time and being a Baartman I feel that connection to the language and the land. As a descendent of Sara Baartman and her family, it’s something inside me that is yearning to come out. I chose to enrol for the course and enlighten myself about the language spoken by my forefathers,” he said. “Everyone should do the course, because history tells us that humanity actually started in the Western Cape. This means Khoekhoegowab is for everyone. Every single person who wants to learn the first language must come.”

Jane Moleleki, Director of Arts, Culture and Language Services at DCAS, explained that the Department is committed to promoting the diminished language, as outlined in the Department’s language policy.  “The Department is committed to ensuring that we give attention to this part of our history, our language and culture that was either diminished or became extinct. I want to declare our commitment to the Khoekhoegowab language. There is a close link between language and identity. You cannot divorce language from identity,” Ms Moleleki said. “I want to thank UCT for their contribution and the role they have played in this ground-breaking initiative. There is nowhere in South Africa where you can find a similar course at a tertiary institution.”

For more information or to enrol, please contact the Centre of Extra-Mural Studies at UCT or email Bronwyn Geldenhuys at Bronwyn.Geldenhuys@uct.ac.za.

DCAS works to ensure the equal use of the Western Cape’s three official languages and the promotion of diminished indigenous languages. BETTER TOGETHER

Media Enquiries: 

Dr Tania Colyn
Head of Communication Service
Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport
Tel: 021 483 9877 / 076 093 4913
E-mail: Tania.Colyn@westerncape.gov.za