It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of Dr. Neville Alexander today.
He was one of the leading sociolinguists of South Africa and a great inspiration for my own work as a sociolinguist.
Dr. Alexander started his career as a political activist which saw him also spending 10 years of prison on the infamous Robben Island along with Nelson Mandela. Being an intellectual he became a scientist and teacher at the University of Cape Town and a proponent of linguistic rights of the South African languages.
As a leading member of the LANGTAG group that advised the then minister Ben Ngubane on matters of language planning and thus contributed significantly in the development of the country’s innovative linguistic policy which still belongs to the most tolerant and open of the world, he became famous beyond South Africa’s borders.
His views on language were not always uncontested and popular in his own country. But his publications have received wide circulation across the world and have influenced many linguists in their work.
I had the pleasure to meet him on several occasions in South Africa and in Austria. His work and the discussion with him have contributed significantly in my research on terminology policies, and thus had an influence on publications, including the ISO standard ISO 29383 which is again based on the UNESCO Guidelines on Terminology Policies (pdf).
Since 1992 he was also active in the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA), to promote educational reform in South Africa.
He later became one of the founding members of the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), the language planning body of the African Union and served on its board.
Throughout his career he called for a stronger role of the African languages in public use and education without disregard for the role of English in South African society. He was aware of the limited power of government to give the African languages the status as equal media. It will take, he said once, a social revolution to achieve that.
He has passed away on 27 August 2012 in Cape Town.
Read a detailed bio of Neville Alexander on South African History Online: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/dr-neville-edward-alexander