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Celebrating Human Rights Day

On this day, 21 March 2019, the country commemorates Human Rights Day under the theme: “The Year of Indigenous Languages: Promoting and Deepening a Human Rights Culture”. Although the International Mother Language is observed every year on 21 February, to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism, we join others in observing this special day. As we celebrate this day, we must reflect deeply on what and how much people had historically fought for this right.

We can reflect on the struggle of students from Pakistan in 1952, who demonstrated for Bangla to be recognized as one of the two national languages. Protesting students were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, and sacrificed their lives for the recognition of their native language.

For Southern Africa Trust and SADC a day is not enough to celebrate our diversity of languages, especially in a region that has over 30 languages.

The language barrier remains one of the biggest impediment to attaining social cohesion and socioeconomic development in southern Africa. Key economic actors in the regions such as smallholder farmers, cross borders traders, migrants, youth and women have been deterred to significantly contribute to economic growth. Furthermore, information is not accessible to them on developments in their respective sectors because it’s not available in the indigenous languages. In the case of cross border traders, customs documentation is mostly available in English but not in indigenous languages at the border posts. Reliance on other individuals to assist them complete customs and regulatory requirements has led to corruption and perpetuating smuggling across borders.

While we take this moment to celebrate, we must nevertheless not forget that more still needs to be done to meaningfully embrace indigenous languages to an extent of recognizing them as the official languages of business and learning. We are one in our diversity.

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