Chair of the Afrikaans Language Museum and Monument Council, Prof Elvis Saal (left), and Director, Michael Jonas (right), awarded the 2018 Neville Alexander prizes to Suzi Matlhola (centre) and Ernest Loth (second from right ). Second from left is Prof Johan Lenake who delivered the memorial lecture.

Matlhola and Loth honoured; Johan Lenake delivers memorial lecture at the Bloemfontein War Museum

The Afrikaans Language Museum and Monument (ATM) proudly announces that Suzie Matlhola of Johannesburg and Ernest Loth of Paarl are the 2018 winners of Neville Alexander prestige awards for the promotion of Afrikaans. The prizes, worth R10 000 each, were awarded by the chair of the ATM board, prof Elvis Saal, at the War Museum in Bloemfontein on Saturday, 13 October.

Maki Suzan Matlhola is the winner in the category ‘Somebody who uses Afrikaans as a medium to promote cohesion and nation-building’. She was nominated by the ATKV, with which she has been involved since 1988, because of her passion for Afrikaans and her unwavering work to teach the language to non-mother tongue speakers. Matlhola, among others, made a huge effort to improve her Afrikaans, started teaching it for free during after-school classes to Soweto learners, and also established an ATKV branch in Soweto that launched women’s empowerment projects. Over the last few years she has worked with the University of Johannesburg to help learners even better; there are currently seven other volunteers who offer her Afrikaans classes to 500 learners in various parts of Johannesburg.

“The kids love it,” Matlhola said. “For them, it’s fun and there is no negativity linked to it.”

According to her nominee, colleague Karien Brits, Matlhola’s involvement in the community does not only promote Afrikaans, but also changes people’s attitude towards the language. “It’s also about more than just Afrikaans,” says Brits. “It’s about children’s and adults’ lives that are changed – people who get new opportunities in Afrikaans.”

Ernest Abraham Loth is the winner in the category ‘Someone who devotes his time and life to making Afrikaans accessible to all’. He is not only an Afrikaans teacher at the Klein Nederburg High School in Paarl, but also a writer, director, playwright, motivational speaker and painter who promotes Afrikaans at all levels and in all places. His drama texts ‘Eendag is Daar’ and ‘Donkerland’ have been included in various Afrikaans school textbooks and are regularly performed by learners and others. In 2017, he was honoured by the local municipality for his matriculants’ 100% pass rate in Afrikaans.

“I’m so excited about what can be done in Afrikaans,” he said. “I have so many Afrikaans drama and movie scripts that I want to tackle; it’s just a matter of time and money.”

According to his nominee, colleague Zhuale Sha, Loth is very involved in the community, among others at the local radio station KC where he presents and produces programmes. “His programmes focus, among other things, on women’s rights on farms, on HIV/Aids and people with disabilities, through which Afrikaans is used as a medium to empower people,” says Sha. Loth also did the writing and directing of two radio dramas, ‘Sommer Net’ and ‘Ompad na Ulundi’, and has participated in numerous award-winning stage dramas.

According to Michael Jonas, director of the ATM, these awards are an attempt to acknowledge the unsung heroes of Afrikaans and to promote language projects. “This year’s choices were even more difficult than before, because we really had outstanding entries. We thank all who have been nominated for their unselfish work to promote Afrikaans; it is being noticed. Continue with it.” He also thanked the War Museum for their help to make the opportunity possible. “We want to work with other institutions in the country to better familiarise all South Africans with the Language Monument and the work we do.”

The renowned prof Johan Lenake, an expert on Afrikaans and other African languages, was the guest speaker and emphasised the benefits of multilingualism and how to convince parents that this is in the best socio-economic interest of their children. “Multilingualism starts with children and this is what we need to focus on. The parents still have old ideas that focus on English and monolingualism,” he said. “Afrikaans-speakers should also speak more Afrikaans – there are many South Africans who would like to speak the language with them.”

Lenake has taught Sesotho for decades, was a school principal in Fouriesburg and has helped write numerous school and academic books for South African languages, including Afrikaans. His MA degree dissertation in African languages was titled ‘BM Khaketla as Dramakunstenaar’ and his doctoral thesis ‘The Poetry of KE Ntsane’. Even though he is almost 90 years old, he still lectures at the North-West University.

During this event, the musician Wayne Jooste and poet Jemima Meyer impressed the guests with their creative talents. The winners received a certificate and prize money worth R10 000, sponsored by Naspers, on behalf of relevant language projects. Previous winners were the Faculty of Education of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (Wellington), Sabina Dumas, Susan Smith, Elizabeth Dennise van Schalkwyk and Woorde Open Wêrelde. Alexander (1936-2012) was an award-winning linguist, educator and academic who strongly campaigned for multilingualism and mother-tongue education in South Africa. He was also an anti-apartheid activist who was detained on Robben Island for a decade.

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