Sadtu’s Confucius confusion
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.