Although viewed (and dismissed) by many as primarily a tool for communication, language
and literature cannot be understood only in relation towhat it communicates. A study of
how it is shaped uncovers the social forces that provide its broad and complex template in
the acts of reading and writing.
Singling out the importance of the humanities and of African languages, the DHET, in
the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training (2013:37-41), advances an
understanding of the seminal relationship between language, literature, context and
society. The National Development Plan (2011), another founding document shaping the
developmental agenda for South Africa, acknowledges that ‘major humanist projects which
link our heritage and our future as a society’ are encompassed by the humanities in general
and African languages in particular, and advises that our education from basic to tertiary
and through the science and innovation system should invest and build capacity and high
level expertise in these (in White Paper 2013: 37). The ‘demise’ of African languages in the
academic sphere poses a serious threat to linguistic diversity in South Africa’ (White Paper
2013:38) and must be reversed. The DHET White Paper commits itself to a set of key ideas
and strategies to ensure the rejuvenation of African languages through a ‘cross-disciplinary
approach’ (White Paper 2013: 38).
In this context, this lecture argues for the utility and meaning of the poetry of
Benedict Wallet Vilakazi (1906–1947), offering perspectives on the saliency of his work for
inter alia the meanings and location of African languages and literatures with regard to
epistemic diversity, the ‘transformation’ of curricula, tradition versus modernity, gender,
the meaning of identity, and the broader humanist project.
An inaugural lecture presented by Prof NB Zondi, the HOD of the Department of African Languages, University of Pretoria. The lecture was presented on the 30th May 2018 at the University of Pretoria Senate Hall.