Sadtu’s Con­fu­cius con­fu­sion

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@ city­press. co. za

The ques­tion of colo­nial­ism has come to the fore again, cour­tesy of the SA Demo­cratic Teach­ers’ Union (Sadtu) and its ve­he­ment ob­jec­tion to the in­tro­duc­tion of Man­darin Chi­nese in lo­cal schools.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, keen to unify its dis­parate ter­ri­to­ries, refers to this ma­jor lan­guage as Chi­nese; Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Angie Mot­shekga calls it the “lan­guage of Con­fu­cius”, which merely adds to the con­fu­sion.

Sadtu gen­eral sec­re­tary Mug­wena Maluleke la­belled the in­tro­duc­tion of a Chi­nese lan­guage “colo­nial­ism”.

And he warned it would be re­sisted by the union “with ev­ery­thing that we have”.

This presents a change of po­lit­i­cal tack for Sadtu, since the union has tra­di­tion­ally been one of the most vo­cally loyal of gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers.

Many of the union’s lead­ing mem­bers, who are mem­bers of the SA Com­mu­nist Party (SACP), have also been highly sup­port­ive of China and its rul­ing Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP).

How­ever, sup­port­ers of the move have pointed out that since China is South Africa’s ma­jor trad­ing part­ner, Man­darin should be on of­fer, an op­tional sub­ject in the same way as the lan­guages of other trad­ing part­ners, such as French, Ger­man and Span­ish, are taught in some schools.

Lan­guage is, there­fore, one is­sue; colo­nial­ism another. Es­pe­cially since, his­tor­i­cally, lan­guage fol­lowed gun­boats and the phys­i­cal con­quest of ter­ri­to­ries. These were then carved up on maps by com­pet­ing im­pe­rial pow­ers, leav­ing Africa with a legacy of na­tional borders that make no lin­guis­tic, kin­ship or much real sense at all, cer­tainly so far as the peo­ple on the ground were – and are – con­cerned.

In or­der to un­der­stand and be un­der­stood by the newly dom­i­nant pow­ers, and to trade, ne­go­ti­ate and gen­er­ally get ahead, it was nec­es­sary to learn English, French, Por­tuguese and, in one small en­clave and is­land, Equa­to­rial Guinea, Span­ish. How­ever, a ma­jor lan­guage in east and parts of cen­tral Africa came about through trade, with­out any for­mal con­quest of ter­ri­tory.

For hun­dreds of years be­fore Europe’s colo­nial ex­pan­sion, trade mainly with the Arab world, but also with In­dia and China, saw the de­vel­op­ment of a trad­ing lan­guage, Swahili, which re­mains a prime means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mainly in Tan­za­nia and Kenya. So there is no ev­i­dence that lan­guage has, his­tor­i­cally, pre­ceded colo­nial ex­pan­sion.

To­day’s world is dif­fer­ent. It is no longer nec­es­sary for pow­er­ful na­tions or groups such as the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany to con­trol a ter­ri­tory phys­i­cally to ex­ploit it: dom­i­nate the econ­omy, and so­cial and po­lit­i­cal dom­i­nance will fol­low.

But China is gov­erned by the CCP and re­garded by unions such as Sadtu, as well as the SACP, as “so­cial­ist”. There­fore, it could not, in their eyes, be a colo­nial power.

But such prob­lems of re­al­ity con­tra­dict­ing ide­ol­ogy can be glossed over by a suit­able coat of polem­i­cal rhetoric. That was what hap­pened when Josef Stalin’s Com­intern de­creed in 1928, against all the avail­able ev­i­dence, that South Africa was a colony.

It cre­ated prob­lems, since South Africa was clearly no colony in any ac­cepted sense. So re­al­ity was bent to the needs of ide­ol­ogy and, af­ter the SACP was founded in 1953, it de­creed that what ex­isted in South Africa was “colo­nial­ism of a spe­cial type”, or CST.

So Sadtu should not re­sist, be­cause the an­swer is clear: if a colo­nial sit­u­a­tion arises re­gard­ing China, per­haps the union should sim­ply ac­cept it as a ben­e­fi­cial CCST, or Colo­nial Com­mu­nism of a Spe­cial Type.

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