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Ryanair finally drops ‘racist’ Afrikaans test after CEO says it ‘doesn’t make sense anymore’

June 15, 2022, 1:21 PM UTC

Ryanair has dropped a requirement for South African passengers asking them to fill out a questionnaire in the Afrikaans language, more than a week after people began accusing the low-cost airline of racism.

The Dutch-derived language is associated with South Africa’s former apartheid regime, which tried to force all ethnic groups to learn Afrikaans during its 20th-century rule. Around 13% of South Africans speak it these days.

Despite its history, Afrikaans is by no means only spoken by white South Africans—it is the mother tongue of most people in South Africa’s so-called “coloured” communities—but only around 1% of Black South Africans, who form the country’s majority group, use the language.

That made Ryanair’s questionnaire policy effectively discriminatory, as Black South African passengers were unlikely to be able to prove their nationality and therefore travel with the Irish carrier within Europe.

“We have ended the Afrikaans test because it doesn’t make any sense,” Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said Tuesday. However, he dismissed as “rubbish” the accusation from the South African government that Ryanair had been engaging in racial profiling.

Questions on the now abandoned form asked people to name South Africa’s president, its largest city, and its highest mountain, among other things.

South Africa has a real problem with criminal syndicates that infiltrate government offices to produce fake passports, and its government has admitted as much.

Speaking to reporters, O’Leary repeated Ryanair’s assertion that this had sparked the airline’s policy. However, he said his team ultimately didn’t think the Afrikaans-only questionnaire was “appropriate.”

It is not clear why it took Ryanair more than a week to come to that conclusion. “It’s extremely exclusionary,” South African Zinhle Novazi told the Financial Times when the questionnaire hit headlines on June 5. “It definitely does amount to indirect racial discrimination.”

Melanie Verwoerd, South Africa’s former ambassador to Ireland, even wrote last week that “this unfortunate event has damaged the image South Africans have of the Irish nation.”

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