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South African schools to teach Kiswahili as a second language

South African schools will teach Kiswahili alongside languages such as Mandarin, French and German. Should other African countries follow suit to incorporate Kiswahili into their school curriculum?



South Africa is the latest country on the continent to make Kiswahili a language that will be offered in public schools. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga announced that Kiswahili has been approved as a second language that will be taught in South African schools. Although Kiswahili does not have the privilege of being listed as an official language in South Africa unlike Kenya, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, it is a step forward in getting the language widely spoken.

Motshekga told Sowetan Live, “This was approved by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM). There are currently 15 nonofficial languages listed in the national curriculum statement as optional subjects. These include French, German and Mandarin. There is unfortunately no African language in the list of languages. Kiswahili is a bantu language with lexical and linguistic similarities with many African languages spoken in the continent.”

Read: Malema calls for  the adoption of Kiswahili as Africa’s common language

A professor teaches Swahili at the Summer Cooperative African Language Institute in Indiana, US. Photo: AP

Read: Is learning Kiswahili more beneficial than learning a foreign language?

Kiswahili, like Zulu and many other South African languages, is an agglutinating language and shares many similar features in word formation, and grammatical structure. Kiswahili has a large Bantu lexicography, similarly found in iZulu, iXhosa and other languages. Words like awethu have the Kiswahili equivalent of wetu.


Recently, South African politician and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema called for Kiswahili to be made Africa’s common language. The reaction to that suggestion was mixed, some opposed, but many seemed to go with it. The minister further said, “Kiswahili has the power to expand to countries that never spoke it and has the power to bring Africans together. It is also one of the official languages of the African Union. We are confident that the teaching of Kiswahili is South African schools will help to promote social cohesion with our fellow Africans.”

With such positive steps in the education sector, Kiswahili could gain ground on the continent and become the continent’s lingua franca.