Starting next year, South Africa will offer Kiswahili as an optional language in schools, starting with trials in 90 schools.
It will be the first African language from outside South Africa to be offered in schools in a country where French, German and Mandarin are already optional subjects, according to a report by Daily Nation.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has adopted Kiswahili as its fourth official language of communication after English, Portuguese and French. First adopted as a language for oral communication before written official communication, it becomes the first indigenous language to be used by the regional bloc as an official one.
Kiswahili, Africa’s most spoken language with an estimated 100 million users, is finally venturing out of its East African home. Tanzania and Kenya made Kiswahili compulsory in secondary schools in 1986 and an examinable subject 30 years ago.
And sizeable populations in Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and small pockets in Mozambique, Somalia, the Comoros Islands, northern Zambia and Malawi speak it. In February 2017, Rwanda’s National Assembly made Kiswahili one of the country’s official languages, joining Kinyarwanda, French and English.
Since most Kiswahili words are borrowed from Bantu, the most widespread language group in Africa, it is easier for most of the 1.2 billion Africans to learn it. Most South African languages share basic words, grammatical and sentence structure with Kiswahili.
Kiswahili is taught at leading universities globally, with various scholars and researchers picking up an interest in it. Leading world radio stations — the BBC, VoA, Radio China International and Deutsche Welle Radio — have dedicated segments and programmes in Kiswahili.
How Kiswahili unifies East Africa’s over 140 million people with ethnic and linguistic diversity cannot be overstated.
South African rapper Sho Madjozi (real name Maya Wengerif) has taken the Rainbow Nation and Africa by storm through her songs, primarily in Kiswahili.
Her 2019 hit ‘John Cena’, easily one of the most played songs on local radio and at social places, has been viewed 7.6 million times and ‘Huku’ garnered 6.3 million views.
As reported by The Sauce, the 27-year-old earned her a first Best New International Act Award at the B.E.T Awards in June 2019, the first female and only the fourth singer in South Africa to win it.
Madjozi, who schooled in Dar es Salaam, where her father worked, has mainstreamed Kiswahili in the music style “gqom”, born in Durban.
Back in the day was legendary Miriam Makeba, who sang in Kiswahili hits such as “Hapo Zamani” and “Malaika”.