Ryanair, one of Europe’s largest budget airlines is demanding that travelers who hold a South African passport must first pass an ‘Afrikaans’ language test at the boarding gates, or forfeit their seat.
Ryanair, based in Dublin, Ireland, has the lion’s share of internal trips in Europe but doesn’t fly to South Africa. However, travelers who live in Europe and hold South African passports must now pass this language test before taking up their seat on any Ryanair plane. The reason for this bizarre rule, says Ryanair, is that there are a lot of fake South African passports circulating in Europe. So, they argue that an Afrikaans language test is an additional validation method to determine that whoever presents a South African passport is actually South African.
‘It’s, testing the tongue, do a quick Afrikaans language quiz so we can onboard you into the plane,’ says Washington Langa, a South African engineer who got furious on being asked to take the test on a recent flight from Paris to London.
Afrikaans is a locally constructed dialect of the original European Dutch language. White colonial settlers of Dutch, Germanic, and French origins constructed Afrikaans on settling in South Africa in the 1600s. Their descendants number four million today in South Africa.
Afrikaans holds an emotive place in South Africa’s memory. It is viewed as a language of Black enslavement and racist apartheid governance in South Africa. For Black South Africans, Afrikaans is the language that was forced on their identity. Just 12.5% of the South Africans population speaks Afrikaans.
‘I felt so traumatized when Ryanair flight attendants asked me to take an Afrikaans quiz, the colonial language that tore apart our identity as Black South Afrikaans,’ Langa the London-based engineer says. Langa passed the quiz and eventually boarded the plane.
For Wayne Todds, a white South African nurse who failed the Afrikaans language quiz and failed to board his Ryanair flight from Spain to London, the language quiz enraged him. ‘Why does Ryanair assume that every white South African speaks Afrikaans? It’s discrimination, it’s stupid.’
Todds was given a refund on his ticket and jumped onto a different airline.
News of Ryanair’s Afrikaans’ language test has sparked widespread fury in South Africa and the South Africa diaspora abroad. ‘It’s racist. It wrongly criminalizes every South African traveler, the notion that if you fail an Afrikaans language test you’re not South African,’ fumed Wandile Xaba, a South African lawyer who travels regularly around Europe.
Ryanair is adamant that it won’t remove the Afrikaans language test to protect what it says is the integrity of its business and claims that it complies with UK immigration rules. South Africa’s government says it is dismayed by Ryanair’s language test because it regularly keeps in communication with airlines to make sure they know how to validate South African passports.