Multilingualism in Southern Africa



Southern Africa comprises 10 countries1 including Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The scramble for Africa, which took place in the nineteenth century, resulted in the division of some of these countries among three colonial powers: Germany, Portugal, and Britain. Thus Namibia became a German colony; Mozambique and Angola became Portuguese colonies; and the remaining countries – in addition to South Africa, which had already been under British rule since 1795 – became British colonies. During the colonial era, English was the only official language in all the British colonies in the region, much as was Portuguese in former Portuguese colonies.

After the British colonies under consideration became independent states, English retained its status as the sole official language in some of the states, e.g., Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe; but it shared this status with one or more selected African languages in other states. For instance, English is a co-official language with Swati and Sesotho in Swaziland and Lesotho, respectively; much as it is with each of these languages in South Africa. English also serves as the official language of Namibia, a country that was never colonized by Britain. It seems that the choice of English in Namibia was based on the status of the language in the Southern African region, coupled with negative attitudes towards ...

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