Ryanair is facing accusations of racial discrimination after forcing South Africans to take a test in Afrikaans before boarding flights home from the UK and Europe.
Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers, which does not operate flights to and from South Africa, said it required any UK-bound passengers from the country to fill in the "simple questionnaire" due to what it described as a high prevalence of fraudulent South African passports.
Ryanair defended the test in a statement, saying that, "The South African government has already warned passengers (and airlines) of the risk of syndicates selling fake SA passports, which has substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the UK. In order to minimise the risk of fake passport usage, Ryanair requires passengers on a South African passport to fill out a simple questionnaire in the Afrikaans language.”
The company is facing criticism for conducting the general knowledge test in a language that is the third most used in the country and had a controversial role in the oppression of black citizens during apartheid. Some also questioned the content of the test, saying topics including which side of the road South Africans drive on would not in itself determine whether someone was a genuine passport holder.
Some experts have added to the public outcry. Anne-Maria Makhulu, an associate professor of cultural anthropology and African and African American studies at Duke University weighed in on the matter, saying: “I think that there’s language politics here, and that the language politics are insensitive to what underlies it, which is race politics. There is a latent assumption there about what represents South African authenticity,”
In a statement, South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said: "We are taken aback by the decision of this airline because the department regularly communicates with all airlines to update them on how to validate South African passports, including the look and feel." The UK High Commission in South Africa said on Twitter that the Ryanair test was not a British government requirement to enter the UK.
Afrikaans is the third most spoken of 11 official languages in South Africa, used by 12% of the 58 million people in the country. It has long been identified with the ideology of apartheid and was considered the official language until the end of apartheid in 1994.
Conrad Steenkamp, the head of South Africa's Afrikaans Language Board, described it as "absurd" and said it had hindered attempts to improve the image of the Afrikaans language.