By Andrew Irumba
South Africa’s opposition party EFF leader Julius Malema has called for the adoption of Swahili as Africa’s No.1 language arguing that English is a colonial language used to manipulate Africans.
Malema also called for a border-less continent, a common currency, and “a United States of Africa” (USA).
At a media briefing, Malema said “we must develop a common language that can be used throughout the continent. Like Swahili, if it can be developed as the language of the continent.” The suggestion of Swahili as the language of the continent has been proposed over the years but only a few countries have considered the proposal.
Swahili is one of the African Union’s official language. It is also the official language of Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda and has over 100 million speakers.
Swahili is however spoken as a lingua franca (bridge language) in Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite Swahili having an Arabic influence, many speakers have attested to the fact that they could grasp what an isiZulu speaker for example says more than what an Arabic speaker says.
Malema’s case for a continental language goes hand in hand with a call for a border-less continent. Malema said, “We need a border-less continent, we need one currency, one parliament and one President that can unite the continent. We need a United States of Africa. We need one Africa.” But to achieve this, Africa needs one language that can unite the people. However, African languages do not receive the recognition they deserve. English still dominates media and there has been more focus on colonial languages such as German, Portuguese and French. Lately, Mandarin is being taught in schools across the continent at the expense of African languages.
Unlike the South African parliament for example where legislators speak in their indigenous languages, in many parts of the continent, English and French still take prominence.
In Tanzania, the case is however different, with Swahili being used as the language of instruction in schools and also in official government business.
Who Is Malema?
Julius Sello Malema,born 3 March 1981 is a Member of Parliament and the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a far-left South African political party, which he founded in July 2013.
He previously served as President of the African National Congress Youth League from 2008 to 2012. Malema was a member of the ANC from the age of nine until his expulsion from the party in April 2012 at the age of thirty-one.
He occupies a notably controversial position in South African public and political life, having risen to prominence with his support for ANC president, and later President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. He was described by both Zuma and the Premier of Limpopo Province as the “future leader” of South Africa. Less favourable portraits paint him as a “reckless populist” with the potential to destabilise South Africa and to spark racial conflict.
Malema was convicted of hate speech in March 2010 and again in September 2011.
In November 2011 he was found guilty of sowing divisions within the ANC and, in conjunction with his two-year suspended sentence in May 2010, was suspended from the party for five years. In 2011, he was again convicted of hate speech after singing “Dubula iBunu” (“Shoot the Boer”), a decision upheld on appeal, leading to his expulsion from the ANC.
In 2012 Malema was charged with fraud, money-laundering and racketeering. After numerous postponements, the case was dismissed by the courts in 2015 due to excessive delays by the National Prosecuting Authority, leading to perceptions that the charges were politically motivated. However, in 2018, Afrikaner rights group AfriForum announced that it would mount a private prosecution of Malema on the corruption charges.