LINGUIST List 23.3655|
Mon Sep 03 2012
All: Obituary: Dr Neville Alexander
Editor for this issue: Kristen Dunkinson
From: Matthias Brenzinger <matthias.brenzingeruct.ac.za>
Subject: Obituary: Dr Neville Alexander
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It is with profound sadness that we inform you of the death of Dr
Neville Alexander, acclaimed academic, linguist and anti-apartheid
struggle veteran. He died on the 27th of August following a short
battle with cancer.
Born in Cradock in the Eastern Cape to David James Alexander, a
carpenter, and Dimbiti Bisho Alexander, a schoolteacher, his maternal
grandmother was an Ethiopian who was rescued from slavery by the
British. His maternal grandfather was a Presbyterian Church pastor.
Dr Alexander was educated at Holy Rosary Convent, Cradock, and
matriculated in 1952. After obtaining a BA in German and History from
the University of Cape Town in 1955, a year later he completed his
Honours in German, followed by a MA. Having been awarded an
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation fellowship place at the University
of Tübingen, he gained his PhD in 1961 for a dissertation on style
change in the dramatic work of Gerhart Hauptmann.
By 1957 Alexander was already radicalised and a member of the Cape
Peninsula Students' Union, an affiliate of The Non-European Unity
Movement of South Africa. He joined the African Peoples Democratic
Union of Southern Africa (APDUSA) which was established in 1960. In
July 1963 he, along with most members of the NLF (National
Liberation Front - an organization of he which he was a founder
member), was arrested and later convicted of conspiracy to commit
sabotage. For 10 years he was imprisoned on Robben Island
alongside the likes of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu for his anti-
apartheid activities. Dr. Alexander was famous for his refusal to go
against his principles of non-racialism and socialism, and his
unwillingness to join any political elite.
On his release, Dr Alexander did pioneering work in the field of
language policy and planning in South Africa from the early 1980s
through organisations such as the National Language Project, Project
for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa, as well as the
Language Task Group process. In 1981, he was appointed Director of
the South African Committee for Higher Education (SACHED).
He was influential in respect of language policy development with
various government departments, including Education, his most recent
work focusing on the tension between multilingualism and the
hegemony of English in the public sphere.
Dr Alexander's intellectual output is marked by a series of influential
books and articles. Among the most seminal are One Azania, One
Nation, written under the pseudonym No Sizwe, which presents a view
of the distribution of power and privilege in terms of class, caste, and
colour. Sow the Wind, written in 1986, was influential in the analysis
and politics around the uprising in the country. A small influential book
for language policy in South Africa appeared in 1989: Language Policy
and National Unity in South Africa/Azania. An Ordinary Country,
published in 2002, sought to reflect on the politics of South Africa's
transition to democracy. At the time of his death, he was busy on a
number of writing projects including a text on Language and Peace
with Arnulf von Scheliha of University of Osnabrück. Although Dr.
Alexander was not active within the Linguistics Society of Southern
Africa, his influence on the thinking and writings of many of its
members is immense. His passion for an effective and empowering
multilingualism inspired scholars from African languages and Afrikaans
alike. His role in bringing together scholars from all parts of Africa and
Europe to collaborate on the intellectualisation of African languages
was immense, and gave him legendary status amongst linguists and
applied linguists in Africa.
His ceaseless energy is reflected in numerous contributions to
organisations like WOCAL (The World Congress of African Linguistics,
of which he was a standing committee member, and whose opening
address he delivered in Köln 2009) and ACALAN (the Academy of
African Languages, which he helped start). He shifted from co-
ordinating relatively top-down initiatives to a realisation of the need for
bottom-up approaches, of which his and PRAESA's involvement with
the Vulindlela ('Open the Way') Reading Clubs of Cape Town's
He was the recipient of the Linguapax Prize for 2008. The prize is
awarded annually (since 2000) in recognition of contributions to
linguistic diversity and multilingual education. The citation notes he
devoted more than 20 years of his professional life to defend and
preserve multilingualism in the post-apartheid South Africa, becoming
one of the major advocates of linguistic diversity.
Dr Alexander will be sorely missed by colleagues and friends. Our
condolences go to his family and friends.
Rajend Mesthrie, Ana Deumert & Matthias Brenzinger, UCT 31 August
(Adapted from a statement issued by the Office of the Vice Chancellor,
University of Cape Town).
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