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A centre where migrants can learn local languages – including sign language – has been discussed by the City and various partners as a means to help integration.
SEVERAL appeals to establish a language centre that will help migrants learn local languages were made at a consultative meeting held at Yeoville Recreation Centre on 7 July.


Thuli MlangeniThuli Mlangeni, assistant director in the City's human development directorateThe meeting was hosted by the City; PanSALB, the Pan South African Language Board; and DeafSA, an association of deaf societies in South Africa, to discuss the possibilities of establishing such a centre. Local residents and several non-governmental organisations gathered at the meeting to share ideas.

Yeoville, a densely populated suburb on the eastern edge of the inner city, is home to many migrants. Languages from across the continent can be heard on its streets.

During the discussions, Thuli Mlangeni, the assistant director in the City’s human development directorate, said Joburg’s policy on the integration of migrants should be understood as a two-way process that involved new arrivals and local people.

“New arrivals need to make a genuine effort to integrate, which among other things entails learning the language and understanding the socio-cultural context of the host city,” said Mlangeni.

Johannesburg is a cosmopolitan city that has a myriad communities, languages, cultures and nationalities.

Frank Assimbo, a Yeoville resident, explained that languages were the best vehicles of mutual understanding and tolerance. “Respect for all languages is a key factor for ensuring peaceful co-existence without exclusion of societies and all of their members.”

He noted that students were failing to understand subjects such as maths and science because they were instructed in languages that they did not understand. “First world countries are developed because they studied their subjects in their mother tongue and are able to produce wonders in technology,” said Assimbo.

Claude Mupungu, the director of Third Dimension, a consultancy, said a language centre was long overdue and could be of great help to migrants struggling to understand local languages.


FrankRespect for all languages is important, says Yeoville resident Frank Ossimbo“The individual’s ability to speak several languages encourages openness towards diversity and understanding of other cultures. As such it must be promoted as a constructive and structural element of modern education.”

However, he noted that much emphasis was placed on integrating migrants but little was being done to fit South Africa in the global community. Mupungu explained that since South Africa was a member of Brics it was important to start learning foreign languages as it was regarded as an important gateway to Africa.

Brics is a powerful bloc of emerging economies which account for a high percentage of global growth. The bloc consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which joined in December 2010.

“Language is an important tool,” he said. “If you are not able to communicate with the person next to you, it becomes difficult to discover new ideas that can be useful to your life.”

Zamikhaya Mpiyonke, a director of DeafSA, encouraged the gathering to acknowledge the signs used by deaf people to communicate as a language. “You need to learn the language itself because … becoming deaf can happen to you at any time.”

Mpiyonke described sign language as an assertive tool for communication that was developed many years ago. He also spoke of the challenges that deaf people faced in communicating with people who did not understand sign language.

In closing, he urged the City to establish a unit that would promote the use of sign language.

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