Nearly two decades after Indian languages were removed from the official curriculum in South African state schools, Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, Telugu and Urdu are to be reinstated following pleas by a representative group of the country's 1.4 million citizens of Indian origin.
The languages will at first be offered as an optional third language for learners only in KwaZulu-Natal province, where about 70 per cent of the Indian-origin population resides.
The provincial Head of the Education Department Nkosinathi Sishi confirmed in a circular to schools that they could offer what it refers to as Eastern languages, because Arabic is also offered alongside the Indian languages.
Although some schools have been running classes in Indian languages, it had not been part of the official government-approved curriculum. Now classes will be recognised as official subjects up to matric level, the final year of the schooling system in the country.
But the subjects will only be offered at schools where the number of learners makes it a viable option to hire specialist teachers in the language concerned.
Ram Maharaj, chairman of the National Council for Eastern Languages, said he was elated by the decision.
"I first started addressing this with the Education authorities in 2001 to ensure the survival of our mother tongues amid the growing westernisation of our youth," Mr Maharaj said.
"I am hugely relived that they have finally acceded to this request. While we would like to see this option being available at all schools in South Africa, this is a start which I am sure will grow as time goes on," he said.
Mr Maharaj made a plea to parents to encourage their children to take up the third language option.