From 1820, the British Lord Charles Somerset accelerated the Anglicisation policy introduced by his colonial predecessor. Somerset imported Scottish ministers and teachers to teach the citizens English. In 1822 Somerset also began to replace Dutch with English as the administrative and legal language. Under Somerset, English became the sole official language of the Cape Colony.

However, a movement arose in the late 1800s to promote Afrikaans as a reading and writing language, and to translate the Bible into Afrikaans. In 1914, Afrikaans was recognised as a medium of instruction in schools. By 1918, in an editorial by De Burger about the progress of Afrikaans, it was written that the younger generation, who had previously preferred to write in English, now wrote in Afrikaans. In the second half of that year, Afrikaans was also elevated to a university subject for the first time.

In 1909, the “South Africa Act” through which the Union of South Africa would come into being on 31 May 1910 was passed. Art. 137 of the Union Constitution read as follows:

“The English as well as the Dutch languages are official languages of the Union. They are treated on the same footing and possess and enjoy equal freedom, rights and privileges. All acts, reports and proceedings of the Parliament are kept in both languages, and bills, laws and notifications of general public weight or importance issued by the Government of the Union, are and passed in both languages.”

A high point for the proponents of Afrikaans was the recognition of Afrikaans as the official language of South Africa. On May 8, 1925, in a joint session of the Union People’s Council and the Senate, the law on “the Official Languages of the Union” was unanimously adopted. Act number 9 of 1925 read as follows:

“After doubt arose regarding the meaning of the word “Dutch” in the South Africa Act, 1909; and after it was expedient to remove the doubt; it was decided by His Majesty the King, the Senate and the legislative assembly of the Union of South Africa as follows:

1. the word “Dutch” in section one hundred and thirty seven of the South Africa Act, 1909, and elsewhere in the Act where that word occurs, is hereby declared to include Afrikaans.

2. This Act may for all purposes be cited as the Official Languages of the Union Act, 1925, and shall be deemed to have been in force from the thirty-first day of May 1910.”

In 1994, South Africa got a new constitution. Article 6 of this constitution determined that eleven languages are recognized as official languages. It was further determined that the language rights (of Afrikaans and English) that existed before 1994 would not be affected. Since 2022, South African Sign Language is on track to soon become the country’s twelfth official language.