Ryanair drops controversial Afrikaans test: the language of oppression

Ryanair cancels Afrikaans test
The test didn’t make sense
South African fury over language test
Fraudulent South African passports
If you fail the test, you couldn’t travel
Only 13% of the population speaks Afrikaans
A South African journalist said she would’ve failed the test
Social media exploded with anger
Irritated passengers
Speaking Afrikaans has nothing to do with being South African
An imposed language
Protests against the imposed use of Afrikaans
University under fire
It is no longer a mandatory language in school
Afrikaans also has a black history
The majority of Afrikaans speakers are black
A creole language
Afrikaans is not just spoken in South Africa
White Afrikaner nationalists changed the concept of Afrikaans
The myth about Afrikaans representing white nationalists
Afrikaans: more than the language of the oppressor
Ryanair cancels Afrikaans test

Ryanair has dropped a requirement for South African passengers to prove their nationality before travelling by completing a test in Afrikaans, the airline’s chief executive Michael O’Leary said in a conference after the policy caused a backlash among South Africans.

The test didn’t make sense

“Our team issued a test in Afrikaans of 12 simple questions like what’s the name of the mountain outside Pretoria? They have no difficulty completing that, but we didn’t think it was appropriate either. So we have ended the Afrikaans test because it doesn’t make any sense”, said O’Leary.

Image: Marty Sakin/Unsplash

South African fury over language test

South Africans condemned Ryanair for making them take the test in the Afrikaans language on UK flights, calling it discriminatory and racist. Even though the airline doesn’t operate flights to and from South Africa, it required any South African passport holder flying to Britain from elsewhere in Europe to prove their nationality.

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Fraudulent South African passports

Ryanair had defended the test in a statement. “Due to the high prevalence of fraudulent South African passports, we require passengers travelling to the UK to fill out a simple questionnaire issued in Afrikaans," it said in a statement.

If you fail the test, you couldn’t travel

"If they are unable to complete this questionnaire, they will be refused travel and issued with a full refund," the airline continued. Such was the case of a South African expat who said she and her 11-year-old son were denied their boarding passes from Ireland Airport to the UK.

Image: L. Filipi C. Souza/Unsplash

Only 13% of the population speaks Afrikaans

The country has 11 official languages, and many say they cannot understand Afrikaans, a language which was imposed during white-minority rule. In fact, only around 13% of the population speak Afrikaans, according to a 2011 census.

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A South African journalist said she would’ve failed the test

“Afrikaans was a second language in former white schools and as students we had to get good Afrikaans marks to progress to the next grade”, writes Nomsa Maseko, a BBC journalist. “As a result of this I swore to never speak Afrikaans again after I left high school and went to university. I would have failed this test.”

Social media exploded with anger

One person described Ryanair's policy on Twitter as "bigoted rubbish". Another person told Ryanair that South Africa is “no longer in Apartheid". "Educate yourselves", the tweet continued.

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Irritated passengers

A South African man who was flying from Lanzarote to London in May said he was shocked when Ryanair took away his passport and boarding pass before presenting him with the Afrikaans test, according to the BBC. When he protested, Ryanair staff told him: "This is your language."

Speaking Afrikaans has nothing to do with being South African

"It's callous and insensitive to force people to write a test which would evoke so much emotion around it. The language of apartheid was Afrikaans," said the passenger to the BBC, insisting that speaking Afrikaans has nothing to do with how South African someone is.

Image: Karabo Mdluli/Unsplash

An imposed language

“South Africa's black majority views Afrikaans as an unfriendly language of the oppressor, or even a language of white racists, as it was forced down their throats at local schools”, writes journalist Nomsa Maseko. This is why many black South Africans are reluctant to speak Afrikaans.

Image: Santi Vedri/Unsplash

Protests against the imposed use of Afrikaans

The 1976 Soweto Uprising is one of a number of violent protests in which thousands of black children from South African township schools took to the streets to protest against the introduction of Afrikaans as a language of instruction.

University under fire

A more recent protest took place in the elite university, Stellenbosch, that came under fire in 2015 for using Afrikaans in lectures, with some students saying they struggled in classes because of it.

It is no longer a mandatory language in school

Nowadays it’s no longer mandatory to learn Afrikaans in schools, although most schools have it as an additional language and some universities still manage to use it as a secondary language, as well, according to Hein Willemse, Professor of Afrikaans at the University of Pretoria.

Image: Blaire Harmon/Unsplash

Afrikaans also has a black history

“Other than just the known hegemonic apartheid history inculcated by white Christian national education, propaganda and the media, Afrikaans also has a black history”, writes Professor Hein Willemse in The Conversation.

The majority of Afrikaans speakers are black

There’s a belief that most Afrikaans speakers are mixed-race or white descendants of Dutch, German and French settlers, but according to a study by SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), 6 in 10 Afrikaans speakers are black.

A creole language

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 variants of Malay, Portuguese, Indonesian and the indigenous Khoekhoe and San languages.

 

Afrikaans is not just spoken in South Africa

In Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe Afrikaans 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, according to Professor Hein Willemse.

Image: Justice Hubane/Unsplash

White Afrikaner nationalists changed the concept of Afrikaans

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, explains Willemse in the Conversation.

The myth about Afrikaans representing white nationalists

White Afrikaner nationalists created the myth that they, and only they, spoke for those identified as “Afrikaners” and minimised the role and place of black Afrikaans speakers in the broader speech community.

Afrikaans: more than the language of the oppressor

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

Image: Gregory Fullard/Unsplash

 

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