Multilingualism at South African universities: a quiet storm

  • Venitha Pillay
  • Ke Yu


This article seeks to reinforce the urgency for a multilingual academy in South Africa. It draws on recent quantitative data to unpack the dramatic decline of language enrolments and graduates of the 11 official languages. We explore the racial patterns in enrolments in the 11 official languages, given the scarcity of recent research articles that offer a quantitative comparison of the patterns of enrolment in this regard. We show that that while post-apartheid South Africa has seen a continuous rise in the popularity of English and Afrikaans, this has happened at the expense of all other official languages. We are mindful that the language policy in South Africa has political currency, which is not echoed in practical implementation. We suggest that while universities cannot ignore the politics of policy, it is the politics of practice in the form of what students choose to study that plays out in higher education institutions across the country. Our purpose therefore is to offer some insight into such practice. We argue that universities, in asserting their ‘public good’ mandate, should not be guilty of aiding and abetting the decline in indigenous languages by prioritising an efficiency mindset instead of a social justice one.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614