This thesis examines Southern Ndebele (not Northern Ndebele or Zimbabwean Ndebele), its history, standardisation and controversies in isiNdebele orthography and spelling from 1921 to 2010.
In the late 1970s, the amaNala and amaNzunza united politically to strive for recognition as a fourth and separate Nguni ethnic group in South Africa. They were granted their own homeland (KwaNdebele) and this allowed them to develop their own language, isiNdebele. In 1980, the South-Ndebele language Board was formed, with the specific aim of standardising isiNdebele and establishing it as a written language. This campaign has been successful, and on 1 January 1985, isiNdebele became the official language of tuition in all primary schools of the KwaNdebele region. Until 1982, isiNdebele was not standardised, and several different isiNdebele orthographies were in use. In 1982, the first preliminary outline of the Southern Ndebele orthography and spelling rules was finalised. It was published in a school circular magazine known as Educamus in 1982 by the then Department of Education and Training. This guideline is a decisive document containing the official spelling rules of standard isiNdebele, and was accepted as an authentic orthographic and spelling document.
Several problems are associated with the formulation of rules and other inconsistencies in isiNdebele orthographies of 1982, 1995, 2001, 2005 and 2008. Although the 2008 orthography has been revised and adapted to the latest accepted spelling rules, there are still some controversies. This thesis therefore examines the growth and development of isiNdebele orthography and spelling from 1921 to 2010, focusing on the formulation of rules and other inconsistencies accruing from this key document and related texts in the literature. This thesis provides some input on amendments regarding the aspects of the set of rules that tend to cause controversy in the orthography and the spelling rules of isiNdebele. The input contributes to the development of isiNdebele as one of the official languages of South Africa.