UNESCO (2005) argues for the need to recognise linguistic diversity in society as a means to promote cultural diversity, which is necessary for a full realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The government in general and the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture in particular, clearly positions itself to promote unity in diversity, to give all Namibians a sense of identity and pride in their own creative talents, and to improve the quality of life which has a primacy of place.
The impact of globalisation and information technologies could lead to the possible extinction or impairment to cultural expressions. Consequent recommendation is needed for relevant actions that will ensure adequate protection and promotion of cultural expressions, identities and subsequently, human rights. Although speakers of minority languages have a deep attachment to their cultural identity and history embedded in their language, the language itself proves unsustainable for economic reasons.
In 2018, researchers from the Faculty of Human Resources at NUST received funding from the European Union for a major research project under the topic, Democracy and Human Rights. The project is called P3ICL for short and the main objective is “Revitalising the indigenous Namibian languages and protecting, preserving and promoting the culture of Namibian indigenous groups.”
Therefore, P3ICL attempts to bring about a revitalization of indigenous languages for the preservation of culture through recording of cultural practices in the local languages both for preservation and promotion. This action will also lead to a greater understanding between the different cultural groups and promote unity in diversity.
The language groups in this research are strategically selected to cover the spectrum of balance between the majority and minority indigenous language groups in the country. The three language groups cover a large part of the Namibian population. The action can therefore mobilise a large part of society and create a momentum for revitalisation of the selected languages. After successful completion of this action, the researchers intend to upscale this action to eventually cover most language groups of Namibia. The three languages chosen for the study are the Oluzemba language of the Ovazemba people of Ruacana, the !Kung language of the San people living in Corridors 15, 17, and 18 – and finally, Sifwe language of the Mafwe people, found in the Zambezi region of Namibia.
The team travelled to four regions in the country to collect cultural expressions and collate them for research purposes. This data is being used for developing contemporary cultural products, such as books, plays, radio programmes and DVDs engaging the services of NUST students leading to capacity development within the institution and, eventually, the country. The products are being digitalised for preservation in the library and will be made accessible to researchers both within and outside Namibia. The project has also raised cultural awareness through dissemination of plays depicting traditional practices during cultural festivals at NUST and in social media, community radio and through outreach activities. Finally, the project hopes to be able to bring about greater responsiveness in society by advocating for inclusion of preservation of local culture in national policy documents.
The research team has involved key stakeholders in this action through an Advisory committee consisting of UNESCO and the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture and other stakeholders for advocacy activities that have been planned.
*Prof Sarala Krishnamurthy is a researcher in the Faculty of Human Sciences at NUST. The views and opinions expressed herein are purely her own.