The Department of African Languages has been with the University of Stellenbosch for many fruitful years. As early as in 1924, the Senate of the University proposed that a Department of so-called "Bantu studies" should be established. This department was established in 1926, with Dr WE Eiselen as senior lecturer and Head of Department. Because of its rapid growth in 1927 the Department was joined by another senior lecturer, Dr JA Engelbrecht. In the first year the student number was 41, whereas by the following year the number had more than doubled to 104 students.
The young Department concentrated on studies around African Languages, in areas such as ethnography. In time, it became apparent that there was a growing need for language acquisition. A course in African languages was established, offering both Zulu and Sesotho. In 1963, this was amended to Xhosa and Sesotho, as Xhosa is the dominant African language spoken in the Western Cape area. However, only in 1964 could Xhosa and Sesotho be followed as recognised BA subjects, with the possibility of continuing to a BA Honours, Masters or Doctorate degree.
The Department of African Languages, as it exists today, continuously introduces innovative courses and research projects to equip itself for the future. The Department still offers language acquisition courses on an undergraduate level, but also has expanded its course material to meet the growing demand of mother tongue speakers at the University. Literature, Syntax, Semantics, Morphology, Phonology, as well as Communication and Cultural Studies, now make up a part of the undergraduate course material.
On a postgraduate level, the Department has experienced great growth and success. In 1996 the Department established a distance-tuition program for BA Honours and Masters degrees, which has been very well received and supported. Through this programme, the Department has been able to reach students who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to further their studies with the Department of African Languages. In 2003 the Department developed a new Masters degree, namely Masters Degree in African Languages for Professional Contexts and is especially developed for communication officers, publishers etc.
The Department has a proud history of community involvement, both in the theoretical and practical fields. In 1995 and 2003 the Department hosted the International African Languages Association of South Africa (ALASA) conferences with great success.