Lan­guage must not de­cide where you can study

Afrikaans will not sim­ply dis­ap­pear if it is no longer the main lan­guage of in­struc­tion. Just ask other peo­ple who speak their lan­guage de­spite it not be­ing the pre­ferred medium, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

White South Africans will never un­der­stand what the ex­pe­ri­ence of racism re­ally means to black peo­ple. It is a daily psy­cho­log­i­cal vi­o­lence that man­i­fests it­self in ev­ery area of our lives. It man­i­fests in our re­li­gion and the way we per­ceive our­selves; it man­i­fests in our econ­omy, our pol­i­tics and even in­fil­trates our education. White peo­ple will never un­der­stand what it is like to be taught the his­tory of your own peo­ple not in your lan­guage, in a build­ing named af­ter a man who thought you were in­tel­lec­tu­ally and sci­en­tif­i­cally in­fe­rior.

To be study­ing at a school or to have a de­gree from an in­sti­tu­tion lit­er­ally built on the labour, the suf­fer­ing and land of your own peo­ple, and then to be con­fronted with that ev­ery day, is a dis­taste­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. This is not some­thing we were sup­posed to sim­ply get over in 1994. The re­al­ity is that a sys­tem that was racist, pa­tri­ar­chal and un­con­scionable in its cap­i­tal­ism on April 26 (1994) be­fore the vote did not mag­i­cally change on April 28 af­ter the vote.

The prob­lem is that in South Africa we are not 100% con­vinced our past was un­just – un­like the Ger­mans who, bar­ring the right wing neo-Nazis, are so em­bar­rassed about their his­tory that Nazism and the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of Adolf Hitler are crim­i­nalised. There is no “in be­tween” that maybe some parts of Nazi Ger­many were nice and other parts were not.

This year is the one in which white South Africans must take the back seat and lis­ten to con­ver­sa­tions about race, power and priv­i­lege.

Black South Africans had to give for­give­ness in 1994 sim­ply to get a vote. In 2016, if black South Africans are to con­tinue with that mantra, it must be re­cip­ro­cated with com­pas­sion and ac­tive forms of ret­ri­bu­tion.

To those who be­lieve that my thoughts and per­spec­tives are an at­tack on Afrikaans and white South Africans, I want to make it very clear I have no wish to stand against any racial or lan­guage group.

The ele­phant in the room is the is­sue of lan­guage. The thing with lan­guage and how we use it is that it is never neu­tral – es­pe­cially in the con­text of South Africa and Stel­len­bosch, where lan­guage is as per­sonal as it is political. For me it is im­por­tant to recog­nise that the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch is a South African univer­sity. It be­longs to all South Africans and not to a sin­gle group. Un­less we want an­other Codesa, we can­not now start to de­lin­eate and de­cide who gets to study where on the ba­sis of what lan­guage.

I also want to talk about this is­sue of the pro­tec­tion of a lan­guage. As you can hear, I speak Afrikaans very well. I’m not an Afrikaner and I did not learn Afrikaans at Stel­len­bosch, but I love the lan­guage. For me, there are words and feel­ings I can­not ex­press bet­ter in an­other lan­guage.

But I don’t think the pri­mary func­tion of a univer­sity is to pro­tect a lan­guage or cul­ture, but rather to pro­vide higher education to the sons and daugh­ters of our coun­try.

Where this ac­cess to education for all South African stu­dents is re­stricted by lan­guage, we need to re­assess whether the univer­sity is do­ing its job.

Afrikaans will not sim­ply dis­ap­pear if it is no longer the main lan­guage of teach­ing. Just ask other peo­ple who still speak their lan­guage de­spite it not be­ing the medium of in­struc­tion.

Fi­nally, I want to talk about the lan­guage it­self. The big ques­tion here is: Who does Afrikaans be­long to? The sim­ple an­swer is that it be­longs to Afrikan­ers.

But who owns Afrikaans? The Cape Min­strels with their ghoema mu­sic should right­fully also own Afrikaans. The peo­ple of District Six and the Bo-Kaap should right­fully also own Afrikaans. The face of Afrikaans at our univer­sity and in South Africa should not and can­not be only the face of a white man, but also the face of coloured Afrikaans women and black Afrikaans women.

The larger truth is Afrikaans is many lan­guages; it is many dif­fer­ent cul­tures. We must ad­mit that in our his­tory and, even to­day, Afrikaans is of­ten used against peo­ple who are not white. If we want to de­fend an Afrikaans univer­sity, then we have to ac­cept that it would in­clude a de­fence of Afrikaaps, Swart­land Afrikaans, Boland Afrikaans, Over­berg Afrikaans, West Coast Sand­veld Afrikaans, Karoo Afrikaans, East­ern Cape Afrikaans, Or­ange River and Gariep Afrikaans, Boes­man­land Afrikaans, Gri­qua Afrikaans, Na­maqua­land Afrikaans and Richtersveld Afrikaans. And then we have to ad­mit that its face in gen­eral is not the face of a white Afrikaans man. We must ad­mit that few peo­ple are com­mit­ted to the pro­tec­tion of all forms and all faces of Afrikaans in the new South Africa.

We must ad­mit that the de­vel­op­ment and main­te­nance of Afrikaans as an aca­demic lan­guage, as a cul­ture, and as a pow­er­ful eco­nomic and so­cial tool never was in­tended or des­tined to pro­tect a black pop­u­la­tion. Thus the ex­is­tence of an Afrikaans-speak­ing coloured pop­u­la­tion can­not be used as an ex­cuse to main­tain the univer­sity as it is now.

That shows that we are only in­ter­ested in coloured stu­dents and peo­ple when it suits the pur­poses of a white Afrikaans agenda, and this is very dis­hon­est.

As South Africans, we have the choice to re­claim our hu­man­ity. Both apartheid and coloni­sa­tion de­hu­man­ised us all by giv­ing white peo­ple a su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plex and black peo­ple an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex.

We must dis­man­tle this in­hu­man­ity that we are all prod­ucts of by re­claim­ing our col­lec­tive hu­man­ity.

We must re­claim our his­to­ries so that our chil­dren will know ex­actly the truth about them­selves. We must re­claim our lan­guages so that those who choose to speak them do so out of pure love (as I do) and not out of obli­ga­tion.

I look for­ward to the day when I won’t have to talk to my chil­dren about racism or sex­ism. That is re­ally my dream for South Africa and Africa as a whole. To ac­com­plish this, we need to know about the roles we need to play.

Those who lis­ten, must lis­ten. Those who need the chance to cry, must be al­lowed to cry. Those who need to be an­gry, must be al­lowed to be an­gry. Those who need to talk, must be al­lowed to talk.

But none of us gets to claim an easy vic­tory. Be­cause there is no vic­tory in our col­lec­tive pain, there is only clo­sure. And South Africa des­per­ately needs clo­sure.

Chid­inma Nwadeyi was born in Nige­ria and grew up in Queen­stown. She has a mas­ter’s de­gree from Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity and is a stu­dent ac­tivist. This is an edited and partly trans­lated ver­sion of a talk she de­liv­ered to the univer­sity’s con­vo­ca­tion last week


Love­lyn Chid­inma Nwadeyi

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