YALI courses do African entrepreneurs no good

Ademola Adenle, Colorado State University

Growing youth unemployment remains a socio-economic challenge in Africa. Several initiatives, including foreign development aid programmes, are being deployed to address this. Many come with noble intentions. But they are undermined by the flawed approach of parachuting solutions made in the West. The Conversation

A study focusing on a seven year old multi-million dollar programme from the US illustrates this point. The programme was established under former US President Barack Obama’s administration in 2010. It was first called the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). In 2014 it was renamed the Mandela Washington Fellowship. It’s coordinated by the United States Agency for International Development. The programme’s main objective is to support Africa’s next generation of leaders.

YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship entrepreneurs Prince Harry
REUTERS/Mike Hutchings 


It’s just one of many development aid initiatives undertaken from the US and the broader western world.

These programmes have good intentions. But many suffer from a number of weaknesses. These include the fact that they are parachuted in.

Our research suggests that the Mandela Washington Fellowship isn’t realising its potential because of two major problems. The participation of key stakeholders, such as governments and the private sector, is limited. And the courses are based on a weak understanding of the local context in which entrepreneurs have to function.

Our survey suggests that it remains unclear whether the programme has considered key elements that are crucial to the successful implementation of its goals.


The Mandela Washington Fellowship consists of three main tracks of leadership development. They are business and entrepreneurship, civil leadership, and public management.

Every year since 2010, 100 fellows with strong leadership potential are selected from various African countries. They participate in a six to eight week period of mentoring, networking and entrepreneurial training in different US institutions.

The Agency for International Development has channelled $10 million into this programme. In addition to the training in US institutions, four regional leadership centres have been established in Africa. These are designed to be public private partnerships.

Together with developing leadership capacity, the initiative helps in developing a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem by fostering regional networks. It can help local small businesses become sustainable. The initiative can also create private sector driven economies and encourage innovative startups across various sectors. These include agriculture, health, science and technology.

Interviews with several stakeholders from academic and government institutions, the private sector, and programme fellows provide insight into the significance of the programme in Africa.

Most thought the initiative could contribute to building strong and competitive African economies. But several flaws were also identified.

The first was that key stakeholders, such as government departments and ministries, research institutions and the private sector, are visibly absent from the programme across many African countries.

Secondly, a number of those interviewed suggested that the programme’s objectives didn’t reflect African governments’ policy agendas. For example, one government official wanted to know how the programme helped to address a competitive agri-business sector. He asked about this connection because the sector is central to his government’s agricultural policy. He also wanted to know what research and development is being conducted in local universities.

These concerns potentially undermine the prorgramme’s credibility.

Local context is key

The huge differences between business entrepreneurship in America and Africa generated heated discussion, particularly among academic experts. Some questioned the limited understanding of local context of American instructors and training providers. A few fellows suggested that some professors focused too much on issues that are irrelevant to Africa.

There was also a strong view that the programme has developed packages that neglected decades of experience and research in Africa. Some argued that it must be integrated with other local initiatives.

One expert explained that being an entrepreneur in New York has little in common with the experiences of one in Lagos or Johannesburg. Unique underlying conditions require the entrepreneur to function quite differently than she would in the American context. This is compounded by weak institutional capacity and lack of access to various forms of finance that prevails in many African countries.

Bad leadership, corruption and weak infrastructure also remain significant hindrances to entrepreneurial development in Africa. Stakeholders argued that basic training could be given to some bright young entrepreneurs. But without the right governance, economic support and infrastructure required to run the businesses, they are bound to fail regardless of any training.

Because these problems are endemic, the programme’s relatively short duration also becomes a concern.

Moving forward

African governments must pay attention to entrepreneurship development before foreign assistance can yield good results. Their entrepreneurship policies should encourage three key points.

Firstly, entrepreneurship development must be integrated across all levels of education and training programmes and economic development initiatives.

Secondly, entrepreneurship policy must promote innovation and recognise human development and its cultural value.

Thirdly, entrepreneurship development should encourage investment in infrastructure, research and development.

It will be difficult for foreign aid programmes to make a difference unless this kind of policy is put in place.

For their part, foreign aid initiatives must identify with national government programmes within Africa – especially those that target local entrepreneurship activities.

They must run on productive partnerships with research institutions as well as local, private and public sectors. These are important. They can help monitor progress and evaluate against targets. They can also be useful in scaling up the programme.

The partnership should prioritise the involvement of more African trainers. Local experts with deep knowledge of local conditions should be engaged in teaching and running the programme in partnership with American counterparts. This can overcome the critical challenge of providing training that’s relevant to Africa.

Ademola Adenle, Fellow at the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Secrets of human ancestry emerge from South African caves

John Hawks, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Africa’s richest fossil hominin site has revealed more of its treasure. It’s been a year and a half since scientists announced that a new hominin species, which they called Homo naledi, had been discovered in the Rising Star Cave outside Johannesburg. The Conversation

Now they say they have established and published the age of the original naledi fossils that garnered global headlines in 2015. Homo naledi lived sometime between 335 and 236 thousand years ago, making it relatively young.

They’ve also announced the discovery of a second chamber in the Rising Star cave system, which contained additional Homo naledi specimens. These include a child and the partial skeleton of an adult male with a well-preserved skull. They have named the skeleton “Neo” – a Sesotho word meaning “a gift”.

The Conversation Africa’s Science Editor Natasha Joseph asked Professor John Hawks, a member of the team, to explain the story behind these finds.

To an ordinary person, 236 000 years is a very long time ago. Why does the team suggest that in fact, Homo naledi is a “young” species?

The course of human evolution has taken the last seven million years since our ancestors diverged from those of chimpanzees and bonobos. The first two-thirds of that long history, called australopiths, were apelike creatures who developed the trick of walking upright on two legs.

Around two million years ago some varieties of hominins took the first real steps in a human direction. They’re the earliest clear members of our genus, Homo, and belong to species like Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo rudolfensis.

Homo naledi looks in many ways like these first members of Homo. It’s even more primitive than these species in many ways, and has a smaller brain than any of them. People outside our team who have studied the fossils mostly thought they should be around the same age. A few had the radical idea that H. naledi might have lived more recently, maybe around 900,000 years ago.

human skull John Hawks

“Neo” skull of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber.
John Hawks/Wits University


Nobody thought that these fossils could actually have come from the same recent time interval when modern humans were evolving, a mere 236 to 335 thousand years ago.

How do you figure out a fossil’s age?

We applied six different methods. The most valuable of these were electron spin resonance (ESR) dating, and uranium-thorium (U-Th) dating. ESR relies on the fact that teeth contain tiny crystals, and the electron energy in these crystals is affected by natural radiation in the ground over long periods of time after fossils are buried.

U-Th relies on the fact that water drips into caves and forms layers of calcite, which contain traces of uranium. The radioactive fraction of uranium decays into thorium slowly over time. So the proportion of thorium compared to uranium gives an estimate of the time since the calcite layers formed. One of these calcite deposits, called a flowstone, formed above the H. naledi fossils in the Dinaledi Chamber. That flowstone helps to establish the minimum age: the fossils must be older than the flowstone above them.

For these two methods, our team engaged two separate labs and asked them to process and analyse samples without talking to each other. Their processes produced the same results. This gives us great confidence that the results are reliable.

What does the discovery of Homo naledi’s age mean for our understanding of human history and evolution?

For at least the past 100 years, anthropologists have assumed that most of the evolution of Homo was a story of progress: brains got bigger over time, technology became more sophisticated and teeth got smaller as people relied more upon cleverness to get better food and prepare it by cooking.

We thought that once culture really got started, our evolution was driven by a feedback loop – better food allowed bigger brains, more clever adaptations, more sophisticated communication. That enabled better technology, which yielded more food, and so on like a snowball rolling downhill.

No other hominin species could compete with this human juggernaut. You would never see more than one form of human in a single part of the world, because the competition would be too intense. Other forms, like Neanderthals, existed within regions of the world apart from the mainstream leading to modern humans in Africa. But even they were basically human with large brains.

That thinking was wrong.

Africa south of the equator is the core of human evolutionary history. That’s where today’s human populations were most genetically diverse, and that diversity is just a small part of what once existed there. Different lineages of archaic humans once lived in this region. Anthropologists have found a few fossil remnants of these archaic populations. They’ve tried to connect those remnants in a straight line. But the genetic evidence suggests that they were much more complex, with deep divisions that occasionally intertwined.

H. naledi shows a lineage that existed for probably more than a million years, maybe two million years, from the time it branched from our family tree up to the last 300,000 years. During all this time, it lived in Africa with archaic lineages of humans, with the ancestors of modern humans, maybe with early modern humans themselves. It’s strikingly different from any of these other human forms, so primitive in many aspects. It represents a lost hominin community within which our species evolved.

I think we have to reexamine much of what we thought we knew about our shared evolutionary past in Africa. We know a lot of information from a few very tiny geographic areas. But the largest parts of the continent are unknown – they have no fossil record at all.

Explorers Mathabela Tsikoane, Maropeng Ramalepa, Dirk van Rooyen, Steven Tucker (seated), and Rick Hunter (seated) inside the Rising Star cave system.
Wits University/Marina Elliott


We’re working to change that, and as our team and others make new discoveries, I’m pretty sure we are going to find more lineages that have been hidden to us. H. naledi will not be the last.

The first Homo naledi discoveries were made in the Dinaledi Chamber. What led researchers to the second chamber? And what did you find there?

The Dinaledi Chamber is one of the most significant fossil finds in history. After excavating only a very tiny part of this chamber, the sample of hominin specimens is already larger than any other single assemblage in Africa.

The explorers who first found these bones, Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker, saw what the team was doing when they were excavating in the chamber. The pair realised that they might have seen a similar occurrence in another part of the cave system. The Rising Star system has more than two kilometres of mapped passages underground. In another deep chamber, accessed again through very tight underground squeezes, there were hominin bones exposed on the surface.

Our team first began systematic survey of this chamber, which we named the Lesedi Chamber, in 2014. For two years Marina Elliott led excavations, joined at times by most of the team’s other experienced underground excavators. They were working in a situation where bones are jammed into a tight blind tunnel. Only one excavator can fit at a time, belly-down, feet sticking out. It is an incredibly challenging excavation circumstance.

Geologist Dr Hannah Hilbert-Wolf studying difficult to reach flowstones in a small side passage in the Dinaledi Chamber.
Wits University


The most significant discovery is a partial skeleton of H. naledi, with parts of the arms, legs, a lot of the spine and many other pieces, as well as a beautifully complete skull and jaw. We named this skeleton “Neo”. We also recovered fragments of at least one other adult individual, and one child, although we suspect these bones may come from one or two more individuals.

Is there a way for people to view these discoveries in person?

On May 25 – Africa DayMaropeng at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site outside Johannesburg will open a new exhibit with the discoveries from the Lesedi Chamber and the Dinaledi Chamber together for the first time.

For people outside South Africa, the data from our three-dimensional scans of the new Lesedi fossils are available online.

Anyone can download the 3D models, and people with access to a 3D printer can print their own physical copies of the new fossils, as well as the fossils from the Dinaledi Chamber. It’s a great way for people to see the evidence for themselves.

John Hawks, Paleoanthropologist, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kenya gets new facility to control crop pest

By Sam Otieno

[NAIROBI] A facility has been launched in Kenya to aid commercial production of a protein bait to control fruit flies in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The US$250,000 facility, which resulted from public-private partnership involving the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) and Kenya Biologics Ltd, will enable smallholders control fruit flies that devastate their fruits and vegetables.

Segenet Kelemu, director general of icipe, said during the launch on 29 March that fruit flies are pests of fruits and vegetables including mango and avocado that cause Africa to lose US$ 2 billion every year.

Smallholders in countries such as Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia suffer from reduced yields because of the pest.

Kelemu explained that the facility will boost commercial production of Fruitfly Mania, a protein bait developed by icipe through

“Synthetic pesticides also eliminate natural enemies that could biologically control the pests. The unselective and regular use of these chemicals also places at risk the health of the growers, consumers, other beneficial insects such as bees, and the environment in general,” Kelemu explained.

“Many fruit fly species are considered quarantine pests, leading to the rejection of horticultural products from Africa in export markets.”

Sunday Ekesi, icipe

The bait will be sold at 70 per cent less than the cost of other commercially available products, according to the icipe.

Sunday Ekesi, head of African Fruit Fly Programme at icipe, tells SciDev.Net: “Aside from directly damaging produce, many fruit fly species are considered quarantine pests, leading to the rejection of horticultural products from Africa in export markets.

Ekesi explains that because protein is an important part of the diet of adult female fruit flies that destroy crops and vegetables, bait sprays are often laced with protein and an appropriate toxicant as a way of killing female fruit flies.

According to Ekesi in field suppression trials done in 2016, the total number of fruit flies captured in Fruitfly Mania treated fields was 112.1 flies per day in comparison to other management control methods that were only 56.8 flies per day, a 97 per cent reduction in the population of the damaging flies.

The strategic partnership between icipe and Kenya Biologics Ltd (KBL) to develop the fruit fly protein food bait facility, he says, is to mitigate against to losses caused to farmers.

“Icipe firmly believes that Fruitfly Mania, alongside our other integrated pest management(IPM) fruity fly packages, presents one of the strongest possibilities for reducing harmful synthetic chemical pesticide use in Africa. This will improve the health of growers and consumers and the environment, and also increase the competitiveness of fruits from Africa,” he tells SciDev.Net.

Technical and financial support for the facility has been provided by the Government of Kenya and several partners including the development agencies of the governments of Germany, Sweden Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Chris Kolenberg, managing director, Kenya Biologics Ltd, says that the facility has a capacity to produce 2,000 litres a day, enough to meet the local demand of over 229,000 households whose livelihoods depend on mango production in Kenya.

“An additional 400,000 mango growers will benefit from Fruitfly Mania once the product is escalated to include Uganda and Tanzania,” Kolenberg notes.

Simon Ngundo, a farmer in Kenya’s Machakos County who depends on fruits for income, says that most mango growers are smallholders who lack knowledge of, and access to, effective pest control tools.

According to Muo Kasina, agricultural entomologist at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, fruit fly pest management is a big problem in Africa because the time you have the fruits you do not spray pesticide.

“However, with this facility [that] will produce bait to enable control and reduction mechanism will have a positive impact to farmers,” he says.

Farmers should be trained on how to use the bait because having the right tools will help to tackle the problem but if it is not implemented in a wide area system where majority of farmers are involved in the management and control, it becomes non-essential,” says Kasina

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

Battling to save the Ethiopian wolf – Africa’s rarest carnivore

Claudio Sillero, University of Oxford

Most members of the Canidae family, such as wolves, dogs and foxes, are versatile and opportunistic animals, thriving in many habitats and some even living in urban and suburban settings. In contrast, Ethiopian wolves are highly specialised to life in the Ethiopian highlands. Also called the “Roof of Africa”, it encompasses 80% of Africa’s land above 3,000m. The Conversation

Ethiopian wolf wolves carnivore conservation

Tight social bonds help Ethiopian wolves protect their families and territories.
© by lorenzfischer.photo


They are remarkable rodent hunters, with long muzzles and slender legs. Their tight social bonds help them protect their precious family territories from competitors. For a canid of their size (about 14-20kg – the weight of a medium-sized dog), Ethiopian wolves are unique at surviving on small prey (most highland rodent species weigh less than 100g) and are solitary foragers. With their striking red coats and black and white markings, they appear physically distant from their closest relative, the grey wolf.

These qualities made them successful colonisers of an expanding ecosystem as the African glaciers retreated during the end of the last ice age, but paradoxically have contributed to their demise.

Due to a warming continent, in the last 100,000 years the tree line has gone up by 1,000m encroaching on open Afroalpine grasslands and meadows. Due to the pressure of humans, livestock and domestic dogs, the wolves are now restricted to tiny mountain pockets on either side of the Great Rift Valley and are constantly being pushed up the slopes.

Although they were never particularly common, today there are fewer than 500 adult wolves in the mountains of Bale, Arsi, Simien and Wollo, over half of whom are harboured within the Bale Mountains National Park. This makes them Africa’s rarest, and most threatened carnivore species. As an indication this is 10 times fewer than African wild dogs and fifty times rarer than lions.

But there is hope. The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme and its Ethiopian partners continue to put all their strength into fighting the wolves’ various challenges through awareness, education and science-led approaches to disease and population management.

The challenges

The challenges they face are diverse.

It’s not for lack of food that wolf numbers are small. Their environments harbour a particularly high rodent biomass, some 3,000kg of rats per km2 in some meadows. The wolves live in large family packs, where all patrol and scent mark the boundaries of small communal territories. This protects their rich food patches from neighbouring wolves and other carnivores such as spotted hyenas and jackals.

The most immediate and real threat to wolves is in fact domestic animals. While many highland wildlife species have been able to coexist with highland shepherds and their livestock, domestic dogs bring an additional challenge.

The dogs not only compete for food but, as dogs and wolves are inexorably drawn to each other and interact, dogs transmit rabies and canine distemper virus to their wild cousins. This has the potential to decimate wolf populations in a short period of time. In extreme cases dogs may even mate and hybridise with the wolves, threatening the genetic integrity of this rare and endemic canid.

Disease ultimately determines the dynamics of the last remaining wolf havens. Three out of four wolves typically die in populations hit by outbreaks, and may result in local extinctions.

In the last three years, populations in the Bale Mountains have endured back-to-back rabies and distemper outbreaks. Smaller populations are at even greater risk. At the end of last year disease decimated the smallest wolf population in Wollo, now feared on the brink of extinction.

The other great threat to the wolves is Ethiopia’s a changing landscape due to farming. Expanding populations and the need for arable land bring about an incessant pressure on natural habitats.

By and large the people that live in the Ethiopian highlands are relatively tolerant of wildlife, but their priority is survival. Unless their livelihoods can be brought into line with sustainable practices, the meadows and moors they need for grazing, to gather firewood and tend their crops, will soon be degraded to bare rock.

Bouncing back

Nevertheless, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Ethiopian Wolf. In the Bale Mountains the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme have vaccinated over 80,000 dogs to prevent rabies getting across to wolves. And when the deadly virus strikes, swift interventions to vaccinate the wolves have taken place.

There are early signs that the wolves in Bale are bouncing back. By the end of January, nearly all of 18 focal packs monitored – and most recently vaccinated – had bred successfully. As many as seven pups were born to a dominant female and there were over 80 healthy pups located in the Bale Mountains alone. It was also encouraging to see some of the larger packs split, increasing the number of breeding families.

In a shift from reactive vaccination of Ethiopian wolves following outbreaks to a preventive approach, an oral vaccine has been trialled. This will offer protection from future rabies outbreaks.

More to be done

Rare, ecological specialists such as these wolves, will continue to be threatened as environments change and human populations grow. That means that heavy intervention is needed to secure their survival.

A critical factor in their preservation is the commitment and dedication to finding common ground between the needs of people and wildlife. For example, Ethiopia’s long-term conservation view is that within protected areas there should be no domestic dogs. More can be done to facilitate this, such as improved night protection for people’s livestock with predator-proof enclosures. This would reduce their dependence on guard dogs and, in time, reduce the negative impact of dogs on wild carnivores.

Another key intervention would be to implement a metapopulation management paradigm under which isolated populations are treated as part of a single (or meta) population and animals are trans-located between them. This enables recovery and a healthy flow of genes.

In the meantime, our vaccination work brings us closer to the local communities and provides a channel of communication to transmit our environmental education message.

Claudio Sillero, Associate Professor of Conservation Biology, Deputy Director of the WildCRU, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reclaiming the hidden history of Afrikaans

Hein Willemse, University of Pretoria

The language of Afrikaans remains a contested issue in South Africa. The controversy over the medium of instruction at traditionally Afrikaans universities such as Stellenbosch has brought this to the fore again. Should it be in Afrikaans, English, a combination, or a hybrid which will include other South African languages? The Conversation

The institution has to find ways to continue to advance Afrikaans without the perceptions and experiences of racist behaviour associated with early and ruling Afrikaner nationalist practices. It’s essential to consider the current status of Afrikaans, as well as its history.

Afrikaans hip-hop South Africa language music

Award-winning Hemelbesem is a black Afrikaans hip-hop artist.


Many South Africans of every hue have contributed to the language’s formation and development. Afrikaans also has a “black history” rather than just the known hegemonic apartheid history inculcated by white Afrikaner Christian national education, propaganda and the media.

Afrikaans is a creole language that evolved during the 19th century under colonialism in southern Africa. This simplified, creolised language had its roots mainly in Dutch, mixed with seafarer variants of Malay, Portuguese, Indonesian and the indigenous Khoekhoe and San languages. It was spoken by peasants, the urban proletariat whatever their ethnic background and even the middle class of civil servants, traders and teachers.

Afrikaans more black than white

Afrikaans is a southern African language. Today six in 10 of the almost seven million Afrikaans speakers in South Africa are estimated to be black. It’s a figure that will by all indications increase significantly in the next decade.

Like several other South African languages, Afrikaans is a cross-border language spanning sizeable communities of speakers in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. In South Africa and Namibia it’s spoken across all social indices, by the poor and the rich, by rural and urban people, by the under-educated and the educated.

Yet, when the white Afrikaner nationalists came to power in South Africa in 1948 they brought a set of ideas about society, social organisation, the economy, culture and language. Under apartheid, language was deployed as a tool of tribalism, in the service of this divide-and-rule policy.

One of the undoubted successes of Afrikaner nationalist hegemony was the creation of the myth that they, and only they, spoke for those identified as “Afrikaners”. Also, that their worldview was the only significant expression of being Afrikaans speaking. These nationalist culture brokers suppressed oppositional and alternative thought within the Afrikaner community. They also minimised the role and place of black Afrikaans speakers in the broader speech community.

It’s therefore not surprising that socio-political history often casts Afrikaans as the language of racists, oppressors and unreconstructed nationalists. But it also bears the imprint of a fierce tradition of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, of an all-embracing humanism and anti-apartheid activism.

Arabic script

In 1860 one of the students in a Cape Town madrasah (an Islamic school), a descendant of slaves, copied a prayer in his exercise book. Today the surviving fragments of that book reveals a history that somehow remains hidden to the vast majority of South Africans. The exercises in that book, also called a “koplesboek” (head lesson book), are written in “Cape Malay dialect”, the colloquial language of the time.

Apart from the phonetic spelling, any contemporary Afrikaans speaker would recognise it as near-modern Afrikaans. In this case, written in Arabic script. This is but one example of a well-known tradition of a’jami scripts produced in the Cape Muslim community in the latter half of the 19th century and well into the 1950s.

South Africa Muslims Cape Malay Afrikaans language

A South African Muslim man in Cape Town, South Africa. The Cape Malay community’s earliest members were slaves brought to South Africa by the Dutch. They are the group that first introduced Islam to South Africa, and were the first to use written Afrikaans.
Nic Bothma/EPA


Achmat Davids in his path-breaking The Afrikaans of the Cape Muslims (2011) found a similar “koplesboek” dating back to 1806. To give some historical perspective: this was as early as the second British occupation of the Cape Colony. It was when Shaka was only a young man of 19 on the verge of his evolution to a notable military leader, great Zulu king and conqueror.

Arabic-Afrikaans was also used in daily communication, the making of shopping lists and political pamphlets. For the Cape Muslims, a literate community, this language was the bearer of their most intimate thoughts and their religion.

Offshoots of this language community self-identified as “Oorlams”. They disseminated what was called Cape Dutch during the late 1780s and early 1800s to the northwestern Cape Colony, today’s west coast of the Northern Cape and southern Namibia. They played a major role in its establishment as the language of trade, culture and education.

However, not everyone thought that Cape Dutch could express learning, writing or upper middle class culture. It was derided by the upper classes of the Cape Colony, be they Dutch or English-speaking.

The opinion of Chief Justice Lord JH de Villiers quoted in Herman Giliomee’s The Afrikaners: Biography of a People, was that this language was,

poor in the number of its words, weak in its inflections, wanting in accuracy of meaning.

Simplicity, brevity and vigour

Around 1870 the first steps towards the battle between various views on the nature of Cape Dutch, or what would become known as Afrikaans, were taken. Some of the leading figures of what would become known as the “first language movement” (1874–1890) strenuously denied the creole nature of the language. For them Afrikaans was “a pure Germanic language” of “purity, simplicity, brevity and vigour” (quoted in Giliomee).

The Genootskap van Regte Afrikaanders (GRA, the Society of True Afrikaners), established in 1875, actively sought to foster a nationalism among white Cape Dutch speakers. “Afrikaans” became their linguistic vehicle and “Afrikaners” their label. They sought to write a nationalist history of oppressors and victims (also Giliomee).

The GRA sought to actively demarcate “their language” to the point of diminishing and stigmatising other speakers’ claim to it. They declared their own version of Cape Dutch as prestige “Burger Afrikaans”, the distinct “white man’s language”.

Doggedly, these early Afrikaner language nationalists and their successors modified, standardised and modernised a spoken language. The racial prejudice and middle class bias underlying many of their choices had far-reaching implications. In denying the commonality of their fellow Afrikaans speakers who were descendants of slaves, indigenous people or simply poor, they were elevating the language to a narrow ethnic nationalist cause. Afrikaans was constructed as a “white language”, with a “white history” and “white faces”.

Nationalism severely diminished

In a disastrous policy decision, Afrikaans was imposed as a language of instruction on black, non-Afrikaans speakers in 1974. The impact was the point of ignition for the Soweto uprising in 1976 and along with it, suspicion of its speakers.

Afrikaans was labelled “the language of the oppressor”. The slogan was rightly an emotive, visceral response to Afrikaner ethnic, nationalist hegemony and its concomitant coercive state power. However, it also obscured the experiences, lives and histories of black and non-nationalist Afrikaans speakers.

Today, more than two decades into a democratic South Africa, Afrikaner nationalism has been severely diminished and along with it the standing of Afrikaans in the public sector. Nonetheless, in the private spheres of culture, private education, the media and subscription television Afrikaans has seen an exponential growth.

Yet Afrikaans has a multifaceted nature, numerically dominated by its black speakers. Rather than viewing Afrikaans through a single lens it is today acknowledged as an amalgam consisting of a variety of expressions, speakers and histories. It’s in this spirit that the debate on the medium of instruction at universities such as Stellenbosch has to be conducted.

This is an edited, updated version of an article Prof Willemse wrote for Mistra in 2015.

Hein Willemse, Professor of Afrikaans, University of Pretoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.