South Africa
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Ryanair planes at Dublin Airport. File photo: Reuters

South Africans visiting UK on Ryanair quizzed in Afrikaans to prove identity

  • Afrikaans is the third-most spoken first language in South Africa, behind Zulu and Xhosa, and was imposed during white-minority rule
  • One of 11 official languages it was a cause of contention in apartheid era; news of the Ryanair measure prompted a backlash on social media
South Africa

Ryanair is ordering South Africans travelling to the UK to complete a list of questions to prove their identity in Afrikaans, only one of 11 official languages spoken in the country and one imposed during white-minority rule.

Europe’s largest low-cost airline imposed the measure to prevent the use of fraudulent passports, the Irish company said in a statement on Monday.

“If they are unable to complete this questionnaire, they will be refused travel and issued with a full refund,” Ryanair said.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary. Photo: Reuters

The quiz contains 15 general knowledge questions about South Africa, including a multiple choice to identify the nation’s capital, according to a copy published by the Beeld newspaper and other local media.

Others asked which side of the road people drive on, the name of the president and the country’s highest mountain.

Yet Afrikaans is just the third-most spoken first language in South Africa, behind Zulu and Xhosa, meaning most of the population may not be able to read the questions regardless of authenticity.

It is a legacy of the earliest colonists from the Netherlands in the 17th century, and was a cause of contention during the apartheid era over attempts to enforce its use in schools.

Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela a few days after his release from jail in 1990. Photo: AFP

The Soweto Uprising in 1976, a significant event in the history of the struggle against apartheid, was instigated by black schoolchildren in protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans in classrooms.

English, another official language, is more widely spoken, albeit as a second or third tongue in many cases.

News of the measure prompted a backlash on South African social media over the weekend.

Alex Macheras, an independent aviation analyst, called it “categorically insane and discriminatory”.