Presentation of the Opening Speech at the Okahandja 1996 conference for readers of the Bisharat! web site. Return to Basic Documents.

Regional Workshop on Cross-Border Languages

National Institute for Educational Development (NIED)

Okahandja, 23-27 September 1996

Opening speech by

The Minister of Basic Education and Culture,

Honourable John Mutorwa

It is a great honour for me to be here amongst you today to witness the first coming together of countries sharing common languages with Namibia. I, therefore, sincerely congratulate the organisers of the International Workshop on Cross-Border Languages, with special gratitude to NIED and the University of Namibia in collaboration with the German Foundation for International Development (DSE) for the job well done. Furthermore, I would like to welcome our distinguished guests from Angola, Botswana, South Africa and Zambia:

Mwa lele po,


Mu lumele sha.

We appreciate the efforts and input that you have made towards the realisation of this workshop. We also thank you for shelving your programmes in your respective countries to pave the way for our request to come and share your ideas with your Namibian counterparts in this workshop. We hope that while you are here in Namibia you will share your experience with your Namibian counterparts and that the exchange of ideas will lead to greater cooperation. For those of you who got the chance of visiting various places of our country, we hope you have enjoyed seeing what Namibia looks like and hope that you will come back and tour our holiday resorts some time. We wish you a splendid stay with us.

Since independence, the Ministry of Education and Culture had been trying to stimulate closer cooperation with neighbouring countries in the field of languages for Oshikwanyama, Setswana and Silozi. Through the grace of God, the German Foundation for International Development (DSE) with its commitment to educational development in sub-Saharan Africa and its long-standing experience and expertise in financial support for international workshops agreed to work together with NIED to formalise strategies which made this workshop a reality.

Namibia has made it clear that it adheres to the principle of bilingual education which embraces, on the one hand, English and, on the other, a number of Namibian languages as well as Afrikaans and German. Thus, in adult education and in the schools, great emphasis is put on Namibian languages which are used as the medium of instruction in Stages I and II of Functional Literacy classes for adults, and in Grades 1 to 3 in Primary schools. In addition, several of them continue to be taught as a subject up to matric or even University level. This process is accelerated by the production of learning materials in all the levels of our education system. To realise these goals the Namibian languages which are also spoken in neighbouring countries, need a forum of this nature to concur with their counterparts.

Since colonialism has arbitrarily divided people in the region, the languages which are the subject of this workshop are now spoken in Namibia as well as in Southern Angola (Oshikwanyama), Western Province (former Barotseland) in Zambia (Silozi), and both Botswana and part of South Africa (Setswana). In Namibia, according to the 1991 Census these languages are spoken by 350,000 (Oshikwanyama), 70,000 (Silozi) and 6,000 (Setswana) people. In Namibia and abroad these languages play an important role in formal and non-formal education. Thus, in Namibia Oshikwanyama and Silozi can be studied up to matric level (now: International General Certificate of Secondary Education). Oshikwanyama and Silozi will be introduced as HIGCSE (Higher International General Certificate of Secondary Education) subjects in 1997. These languages are also used as media of instruction for 45,000 Oshikwanyama and 7,500 Silozi learners. It is planned to introduce Oshikwanyama and Silozi as subjects at the University of Namibia.

The overall aims of the International Workshop on Cross-Border Languages are:

*     To provide a forum where participants from various institutions report on achievements as well as difficulties experienced in using the aforementioned African languages in their countries and thereafter try to find ways and means of unifying efforts to alleviate these problems and better our achievements.

*     To formulate recommendations to facilitate and promote regional cooperation and allow for the definition of future activities in this field including financial implications.

*     To contribute to a greater public awareness of the important role of these African languages in the region in educating the young generation and spreading literacy and knowledge, not forgetting moral behaviour and responsibility.

*     To consolidate the position of these African languages as an adequate means of expressing cultural and linguistic identity. Languages unify and symbolise a common bond. Languages tie people together and mark them off as distinct from others. At all levels and in all communication, language is a symbol of group and individual identity.

*     To agree on a standardized orthography for the languages under question and for a coordination in the lexical expansion for educational purposes. Lexical expansion is very essential in countries using these languages as media of instruction in the lower grades.

*     To initiate the exchange of manuscripts and materials used in formal and non-formal education so as to widen our material pool at various levels of education with a variety of sources to choose from.

*     To discuss other practical aspects of how and where educational institutions could benefit from existing sources such as teacher training or the training of literacy promoters.

What are the challenges facing members of this workshop, today and in future with regard to the development of our cross-border languages? We firstly have to look at the value of cooperation in the following spheres:-

*     The economy of numbers

Here we have to look at the number of learners in a given country proportional to the costs of books to be printed. The costs could be minimized if say three countries order the same book in a particular year.

*     The sharing of limited expertise

As our countries have a limited number of human resources, it would be of vital importance if these resources could be shared by opting for joint ventures in research, training and distribution.

*     The benefits to education

Unity is strength, no individual man is a source of all wisdom. One person can be good at sea while the other is good on land. One can be a good hunter, but cannot do fishing or farming. So s/he will need help from those who are experts in the field. To a certain extent there will be one who happens to know nothing at all. S/he shouldn't be blamed blindly because there might be circumstances which lead to this situation. The main purpose of this workshop can be summarised in one word, and that is 'education'. We can therefore look at how this workshop will achieve its goals.

The other crucial issue is that the speakers of these languages have been separated for quite some time now. Some have been separated for decades while others go back to centuries. In the process these languages might have borrowed words from other languages in the vicinity or might have lost the natural meanings of some words due to the environment. This is a natural trend in any community separated from the others, either by physical features or colonial boundaries as is the case in our situation. Therefore the workshop will be faced with differing linguistic facts, such as in the lexical field and lexical borrowing. It is for individual groups to work out strategies to harmonize these differences.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the donors and sponsors. With unreserved gratitude, I would thank heartily the DSE (German Foundation for International Development) for sponsoring researches in all the countries where these languages are spoken, whose papers will be presented later. We humbly appreciate the sponsoring of the excursions to the regions, which exposed our guests to the situation at the grassroots in Namibia. We furthermore welcome and thank Professor Elugbe from Nigeria for being with us here today. Being your second trip to Namibia, I hope you will find your stay to be more exciting than before and we look forward to your dynamic experience and expertise during the workshop. To the organisers of the worshop, Ms Patty Swarts, the Director, and your esteemed team at NIED together with the members from UNAM, I personally thank you for the miraculous preparations you have made. To all participants, especially those from neighbouring countries, you are all welcome to Namibia.

Ladies and gentleman, it is now my pleasure to declare this workshop officially open and wish you the best for the rest of the week.

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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