Presentation of the Closing Address from the Okahandja 1996 conference, for readers of the Bisharat! web site. Return to Basic Documents.
University of Namibia
I am pleased to hear that, judging from the participants' comments, the proceedings and the general atmosphere during the meeting at this pleasant venue here in Okahandja, this international workshop on cross-border languages was a complete success. It was the first of its kind and, I strongly recommend, not the last meeting to foster regional co-operation among the SADC countries in this particular area of languages which were divided by colonialism. The frontiers which were created by colonial powers separated peoples and languages, peoples and languages which subsequently were influenced and manipulated or - I dare to say - in the case of Oshikwanyama in Angola, suppressed by colonial authorities. This is why in our independent countries now, a cross-border workshop became a burning need, in order to find out where we are and what should be done. As an historian I am fully aware of the painful past where our peoples had nothing to say in language policy matters and language development. But let us not only refer to this negative experience. Let us also remember the time when Ovakwanyama, Malozi and Batswana were united, speaking languages which were not artificially separated by different orthographies, and which did not display divergences resulting from the impact and imposition of Portuguese, German, Afrikaans and English. It should become a reality again that brothers and sisters communicate with one another across borders. And meetings like yours pave the way to such a reality.
Furthermore I am glad to say that in close co-operation with NIED and the German Foundation for International Development (DSE), colleagues from my university played a substantial role in the initiation and preparation of this workshop, wrote papers and, in short, were active participants in the proceedings. It goes without saying that given the lack of trained manpower in Namibia, which is also felt in the field of African languages, including the cross-border languages Oshikwanyama, Silozi and Setswana, UNAM is pleased to offer its human resources wherever language issues are at issue. I understand that discussions are under way in the Dept. of African Languages to broaden the scope of its teaching activities by offering courses which are geared to qualifying teachers and language practitioners. We need to train language specialists who combine a sound competence of the national language in question with a solid knowledge of both linguistic and literary theory. This includes also the further qualification of our own junior staff members who have to stand the test at international meetings like this. In this connection, may I also draw your attention to the fact that the transformation of our university by the introduction of a modular system has allowed us to introduce the cross-border languages, Oshikwanyama and Silozi. I am looking forward to welcoming students who are keen to study these languages and, by doing so, will become equipped with a knowledge which is basic to any work in language standardisation and promotion. In addition, I have the vision that there might also be students coming to Namibia from Angola or Zambia, while Setswana-speaking Namibians could enrol in Setswana studies in Botswana and new South Africa.
As it was made clear in the papers by R. Trewby, E. Elderkin and K. Legere, research on Silozi, Oshikwanyama and Setswana is a high priority. Again, UNAM is prepared to play its part. But, as these languages are cross-border languages, I am particularly looking forward to joint research projects where UNAM scholars work hand in hand with colleagues from our neighbouring countries. I pledge my full support to creating the conditions through which this type of co-operation can become a reality, not only for the advancement of academic studies, but foremost as part of our ample community services. I am fully aware of the fact that there are various channels through which co-operation between us and our neighbours may be established. For example, the bilateral agreement between the Republic of Botswana and the Republic of Namibia already provides us with a framework under which projects may be initiated.
Personally I enjoyed meeting the South African delegates last weekend. Today I am glad to meet all participants, both from Namibia and all neighbouring countries - Angola, Botswana, South Africa and Zambia. I hope that all of you had a pleasant stay and that you will leave NIED full of new ideas and enthusiasm to start implementing what you have discussed here.
As the Vice-Chancellor of a university, let me be a bit selfish and, in addressing you all, may I mention a few names of those among you whose participation in the workshop was a particular pleasure for me when I heard about it. First of all, there is Comrade Naledi Pandor, Member of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, who managed to spare some days of her overcrowded timetable to be with you and to deliver her keynote paper which, I was informed, was received as a substantial and practice-oriented input to your deliberations.
Next, I am glad to find Prof. Mubanga Kashoki amongst you. He has been the VC of the Copperbelt University in Ndola, Zambia and is a distinguished scholar from the University of Zambia who has widely contributed to the promotion of African languages including - via the United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) - the discussion on the language policy for Namibia. It is an honour and a pleasure to have you here. Prof. Ben Elugbe, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of lbadan, is already now with us as a consultant for a second time. Thank you for coming from Nigeria, which is neither an easy, nor fast, trip. Comrade Zavoni Ntondo from the Institute of National Languages in Luanda is similarly already well known in this country; your contribution to promote co-operation between Oshikwanyama speakers on both sides of our border is highly appreciated. Dr. Joseph Tsonope, you are the head of the delegation from our Eastern neighbours Botswana. We hope you enjoyed your first visit to Namibia. We also sincerely hope that in your capacity as the Chairman of the Linguistic Association of Southern Universities (LASU) and as a senior staff member of the University of Botswana you will continue to promote regional and bilateral co-operation. And last but not least, you, Prof. Snyman, from the University of South Africa are well known here in Namibia for your contributions both in research (on San languages and Setswana) and in our university in your capacity as the external examiner for the Dept. of African Languages. Thank you all, as well as the members of your delegations, for sharing your rich experience with us.
As I said before, this noteworthy initiative by Namibian colleagues in bringing together experts from the Southern region is an example which certainly deserves to be imitated time and again in future. I understand, however, that donor agencies concentrate foremost on basic education. As you might have observed, scholars from tertiary institutions like our university are keen to support relevant education projects in the broadest sense. They play a substantial role in training and qualifying people who are subsequently found in jobs where language issues are dealt with. UNAM staff members are also in the forefront here as far as research on African languages is concerned. Some research results you have certainly found in a published form in the book "African Languages in Basic Education" which, by the way, was edited by one of my colleagues from UNAM. Hence, as the Vice-Chancellor of UNAM I would like to draw your attention to the fact that given our substantial role in enhancing educational projects in the country we ourselves should not be forgotten by donor agencies as one potential recipient.
May I also be allowed to put two suggestions for a follow-up to this workshop before you? Your attention was focused on cross-border languages which enjoy the privileged position of being used in education. But what about other cross-border languages? Otjiherero is spoken also by Ovaherero who live in Botswana. Similarly, Hambukushu and their language are found in three countries. Would it not be a viable task to discuss issues pertaining to these and several other languages of this type at a forthcoming regional meeting? Or, what do you think about a conference where we look in detail into the role of universities in promoting language knowledge and the use of African languages? I would be pleased to welcome you again maybe next time at UNAM for such a meeting.
Text source: Cross-border languages : reports and studies, Regional Workshop on Cross-Border Languages, National Institute for Educational Development (NIED), Okahandja, 23-27 September 1996 / edited by K. Legere. Windhoek : Gamsberg Macmillan, 1998. With thanks to Prof. Karsten Legere.
Okahandja 1996 : Programme Welcome Opening Recommendations Closing
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