Cape Town — South Africa's language authorities have denounced Irish airline Ryanair for requiring a test in Afrikaans for all South Africans before they can fly to Britain. Afrikaans is spoken by about 12% of South Africans as their first language and the country boasts ten other official ones, including the more widely spoken Zulu and Xhosa. Singling out Afrikaans also reopens apartheid-era racial wounds.
VOA asked Dublin-based Ryanair about its test, which is given to South African passport holders traveling in Europe en route to Britain.
In response, Ryanair said: "Due to the high prevalence of fraudulent South African passports, we require passengers travelling to the UK to fill out a simple questionnaire issued in Afrikaans. If they are unable to complete this questionnaire, they will be refused travel and issued with a full refund."
The CEO of the Pan South African Language Board, Lance Schulz, says the board has expressed its displeasure with Ryanair's Afrikaans test because many South Africans do not understand the language.
"Our view is that the decision is quite reckless and reminiscent of the apartheid systemic subjugation of speakers of other languages, mainly black people. And in essence our concern is that it creates racial as well as linguistic discrimination. We believe that not just is it in contravening our constitutional democracy as well as linguistic diversity, but it's an ignorance of the UN Declaration of Human Rights," he said.
Schultz says the Board believes that Ryanair must find other non-discriminatory means to test South African passports.
Meanwhile, the CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, Conrad Steenkamp, has written directly to Ryanair to explain how absurd their test is.
He says many South Africans would fail a test given in Zulu or one of the other official languages.
Steenkamp says he hopes that Ryanair will see the error of its ways.
"Thus far Ryanair has not responded to us about our comments. We advised them to, one: immediately stop using the profiling; two: they need to start apologizing to people. People were turned back from flights as a result of this and they are in serious jeopardy, this could end up in court cases," he said.
Reuters reports that the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa said it was taken aback by Ryanair's decision to use the Afrikaans test. The department reportedly said the government had measures that it regularly shares with airlines to curb any instances of fake documents.
Ironically, news of Ryanair's Afrikaans test breaks in June when Youth Day is marked in South Africa. The day commemorates the 1976 uprising against the language.
On the 16th of this month 46 years ago, thousands of black students marched in Soweto against the white apartheid government's insistence that Afrikaans be a compulsory medium of instruction in South African schools.
Their peaceful protest was met with teargas and live ammunition fired by police, and it's estimated at least 176 people died in the unrest.