Vol 29 No 1 (2020): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Linguistics

Tertiary students’ attitudes towards contemporary poetry in isiZulu as a tool to enhance access to academic content

Muhle Sibisi
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Heike Tappe
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Published May 14, 2020
  • contemporary poetry,
  • home language,
  • indigenous languages,
  • language-as-a-resource


This article explores attitudes of isiZulu home-language tertiary students regarding the use of contemporary poetry in isiZulu to disseminate academic content in English. In South African education sector English remains, by default, the official medium of instruction despite constitutional directives stipulating that there be a parity of esteem between all eleven official languages of the country. The hegemony of English results in ambivalent attitudes among speakers of African languages towards the use of their own languages in education. In this article, we promote the value of isiZulu as a resource for academic learning – a means to reclaim indigenous languages and cultures. We assess students’ attitudes to explore whether contemporary poetry in isiZulu may serve as a tool to enhance access to academic content. The findings indicate positive yet diverse views on the use of contemporary poetry in isiZulu for the dissemination of academic content. The majority of the participants welcomed the use of isiZulu poetry as a way to introduce new topics, scaffold concepts, and summarize academic content. However, the ambivalence persists as students believe that isiZulu offers limited opportunities to access economic goods. We conclude that South Africa needs to give African languages a space in the academia comparable to that of English; over time parity may be achieved.