Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Tribute to Neville Alexander

27 August 2012

Tributes to Neville Alexander, acclaimed academic, pan Africanist, linguist and anti-apartheid struggle veteran. He was a resource person in one of the early editions of CODESRIA’s annual Governance Institute. Dr. Alexander died in Cape Town, South Africa on 27 August 2012 following a long battle with cancer. He was 75.


By Sammy Beban Chumboo, Former Member of the Scientific Committee of CODESRIA

We have been naturally devastated since yesterday by the sad news of Neville’s passing away into eternity. Mathias Brezinger had earlier given us information about his hospitalisation and the bout with cancer. It was our fervent hope, wish and prayer that he would recover and be with us for sometime but this was not to be.

His departure is a huge loss for me personally before being a colossal loss for language planning, the African renaissance movement, the nation and the academic community. Indeed, we owe him a debt of gratitude for his legacy of enduring and endearing achievements for the cause of physical liberation of mankind and mental decolonisation of humanity.
For this cause, he lived and lived his life with a sense of mission, a sense of responsibility and a sense of duty. His was a life of dedication, selflessness, abnegation and commitment to all worthy causes congruent with his lofty ideals of freedom and the advent of a new social and political order for the nation and the continent. He fought on all fronts, especially in the social, political and academic arena. As a young nationalist and anti- apartheid militant activist and warrior, he achieved the height of glory and recognition as a graduate of Robben Island where he was (for ten years) in the distinguished company of icons and venerables like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu,inter alia. His literary production and academic productivity conceived as works of advocacy for a new social order in South Africa and especially for the renaissance of a dynamic, prosperous and peaceful Africa , have merits of distinguished impact within and beyond the confines of the national territory.

In the last eighteen years, we have worked closely with Neville. His dynamism and profound engagement with ideals of development leave no one indifferent. Neville galvanised and channelled our energies into working towards the effective implementation of the OAU/AU Language Plan of Action for Africa and giving a new impetus to the mother tongue- based multilingual education policy of UNESCO. The creation of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) at the University of Cape Town and the rich research output generated or inspired by it will remain an eloquent testimony of Neville’s foresight and diligence.
At the continental level, he organised conferences and networked with like-minded linguists and scholars world- wide for concerted action in favour of the revitalisation, revalorisation , intellectualisation and instrumentalisation of African languages to assume their new function as languages of education and media of access to information and effective participation of the marginalised rural populations of Africa in national development endeavours . In this respect, Neville’s indefatigable energies were instrumental in crystallising the Academy of African Languages (ACALAN) from the effervescent initiatives of the illustrious former President of Mali. Neville Alexander inspired and championed the reflection and the work that led to the African Union’s creation of ACALAN as the apex continental organisation serving as think tank on continental language policy issues and the powerhouseor co-ordinating agency for the impetus of language policy implementation in Africa. Neville served on the board of ACALAN at the level of the African Union and was a foundation member of the Academy as one of the eight pillars or nucleus of the Academy that conceptualised the strategic development plan of the Academy. The award of the Linguapax prize which he received in 2008 from Spain was, in our considered opinion, a well deserved recognition of his immense contribution to the cause of linguistic diversity, multilingualism, multilingual education and nation building anchored on the lofty ideals of pluralism.

Neville Alexander, the colossus has gone through the pearly gates of splendour into the world of immortality. Neville Alexander, the titan of our times has left indelible footprints in the sands of time as a nationalist, a scholar and reformer. In his honour, ours should be, not only a duty but also a responsibility to continue with renewed zeal, commitment and dynamism, the ideals of service for which Neville lived and died: service to the nation, service to the continent, service to humanity.

Beban Sammy Chumbow
Emeritus Professor of Linguistics, University of Yaoundé 1
Former member of the Scientific Committee of CODESRIA
Vice President, Cameroon Academy of Sciences
Former Rector/ Vice Chancellor, University of Yaounde 1,
University of Ngaoundere, University of Dschang
Foundation Member of the African Academy of languages (African Union)