Nickelodeon has adapted the Zulu language for its famous children’s animation series, SpongeBob SquarePants. What this means is that South Africans can now enjoy the famous cartoon in an indigenous language.
Zulu is the most widely spoken language in South Africa, and social observers believe that the adaptation is a good step in the right direction.
At a time when African movies are becoming increasingly inclined toward western cultures and lifestyles, critics say that the move by Nickelodeon is a welcome development.
Speaking after the release of the popular cartoon series in the Zulu language, senior vice-president of Nickelodeon Africa, Dillon Khan, was quoted as saying:
“This is a first in Africa. This provides audiences the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the iconic world of Bikini Bottom like never before.” He further added that it was the first step in the company’s commitment to being “more inclusive and more localized, while celebrating Africa’s rich and colourful heritage and local languages.”
Since the release of the cartoon in the Zulu language, it has gained prominence among South Africans. This is a major boost for the American animation company, as it aims to increase its viewership in Africa.
Although the first episode of the Spongebob SquarePants cartoon first aired on May 1, 1999, the character was created on July 14, 1986. The company says that the adaption is in celebration of its 36th birthday.
About the Zulu Language in South Africa
Zulu is a Southern Bantu language spoken in Southern Africa. It is the traditional language of the Zulu people, with about 12 million native speakers, who primarily inhabit the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
The Zulu language is the official language in South Africa and is spoken in two more countries as a mother tongue by a part of the population. The language has its roots in the Niger-Congo language family.
However, it is most widespread in South Africa and spoken by about 24% of the country’s population. In addition, it is understood by over 50% of South Africans.
Adoption of an Indigenous Language in Africa
You will recall that there have been increased calls for African countries to adopt a common indigenous language.
Activists who support the motion say it will help to eradicate the colonial footprint on the continent, which has been stamped as a result of the adoption of English, French, and Arabic.
To date, the primary working languages of the African Union (AU) are Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Recently, Kiswahili was added as a working language in the AU, but it is hardly ever used.
Activists have called for African nations to adopt Kiswahili as their official language and move towards eradicating the lingua franca. The Swahili language has been widely accepted in a majority of countries within the Eastern and Central African regions.
It is believed that a common African language will further foster peace and unity within the continent. However, there are still some concerns in some areas about adopting Kiswahili as a common language.
Recently, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, moved swiftly to order schools in the country to offer Kiswahili as a compulsory subject for students.
One of the most vocal voices which have continued to champion the adoption of a common indigenous African language is South African politician Hon Julius Malema.
Malema argues that Africans appear divided by adopting the colonial languages. “We need a border-less continent, we need one currency, one parliament and one president that can unite the continent. We need a United States of Africa. We need one Africa,” he says.
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