Afrikaans is here to stay

It’s 40 years since the Soweto Upris­ing, and ver­nac­u­lar lan­guages re­main a pipe dream in our schools, write and

CityPress - - Voices -

Afew years ago, Afrikaans was dropped in schools around my home­town in Mpumalanga. The schools main­tained siSwati as their first lan­guage and English as an ad­di­tional lan­guage. It was de­cided that there was no need for a third lan­guage. This ap­proach was easy to im­ple­ment in a com­mu­nity where most, if not all, house­holds com­prise siSwati speak­ers.

In Jo­han­nes­burg, in­tro­duc­ing a ver­nac­u­lar lan­guage in for­mer Model C schools ap­pears to be a moun­tain too high to climb. Two years ago, my sons’ school sent a com­mu­niqué to par­ents, ask­ing which lan­guage they would want to see in­cluded as an ad­di­tional one – English is the home lan­guage used at the school, with Afrikaans as a first ad­di­tional lan­guage.

On the re­turn slip, I wrote isiZulu in­stead of my siSwati mother tongue. I did so, mindful of there be­ing only a hand­ful of us siSwati speak­ers in Gaut­eng, and prob­a­bly fewer in my area. I chose isiZulu by virtue of it be­ing part of the Nguni lan­guages, to­gether with siSwati, isiNde­bele and isiXhosa. So, my choice made sense given its sim­i­lar­i­ties with siSwati.

On re­leas­ing the re­sults, the school an­nounced that they were in­con­clu­sive about what lan­guage should be in­tro­duced, and went on to say that it would wait for a direc­tive from the depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion on the lan­guage pol­icy.

At the school’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in Novem­ber, one par­ent asked why our chil­dren were be­ing taught Afrikaans, as op­posed to the other lan­guages. The ex­pla­na­tion was that the depart­ment had not yet clar­i­fied the lan­guage pol­icy, and as such, the school would con­tinue with the sta­tus quo.

We are still us­ing English and Afrikaans – none of the ver­nac­u­lar lan­guages is be­ing taught at the school.

The lan­guage ques­tion has come to the fore again as the coun­try cel­e­brates Youth Month in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the events of June 16 1976, when Soweto learn­ers marched in protest against the il­le­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment’s apartheid poli­cies, which in­cluded the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Afrikaans as the medium of in­struc­tion.

Since 1976 – and 22 years into our democ­racy – the ques­tion has to be asked: What has changed in schools be­tween then and now?

Not much. English is still the most dom­i­nant lan­guage, with Afrikaans fea­tur­ing promi­nently in many schools.

We par­ents are com­plicit in per­pet­u­at­ing this by our fail­ure to find com­mon ground for ver­nac­u­lar lan­guages to be in­tro­duced at our chil­dren’s schools. The sta­tus quo, in­her­ited from apartheid times, will con­tinue un­til we take a stand to en­sure equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all of­fi­cial lan­guages in our schools and in gov­ern­ment.

If you doubt this, check the lan­guages on gov­ern­ment-is­sued of­fi­cial forms the next time you are re­quired to com­plete one.

– Du­misane Lu­bisi

In a de­bate be­tween AfriFo­rum chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Kal­lie Kriel and Gaut­eng Ed­u­ca­tion MEC Panyaza Le­sufi on the fu­ture of Afrikaans schools, held last week in Tem­bisa, on the East Rand, the Afrikaans com­mu­nity ac­cused the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment of un­fairly tar­get­ing its schools.

Le­sufi re­sponded with counter-ac­cu­sa­tions, say­ing Afrikaans schools were be­com­ing ex­clu­sively white spa­ces and that Afrikan­ers were re­ally not de­fend­ing their lan­guage at schools, but their ter­ri­tory.

While the de­bate went some way to­wards high­light­ing the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal griev­ances, I em­pathised with Le­sufi – be­cause his prob­lem has less to do with the Afrikaner com­mu­nity de­fend­ing its ter­ri­tory than with black African com­mu­ni­ties in­creas­ingly endorsing the dom­i­nance of English and Afrikaans in pre­vi­ously white sub­ur­ban schools.

The de­bate re­minded me of re­cent events at my son’s pri­mary school in Al­ber­ton in Ekurhu­leni Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. The ma­jor­ity of black par­ents ve­he­mently re­jected an op­por­tu­nity pre­sented by the school gov­ern­ing body to in­tro­duce at least one African lan­guage into the cur­ricu­lum. The ini­tia­tive had been prompted by the recog­ni­tion of fun­da­men­tal changes in the school’s de­mo­graph­ics, which had de­manded that the body take cor­rec­tive mea­sures by in­tro­duc­ing one or more in­dige­nous lan­guages.

Fol­low­ing a heated de­bate, par­ents voted over­whelm­ingly to keep Afrikaans as the sec­ond lan­guage of in­struc­tion. For a start, they could not agree on which al­ter­na­tive lan­guage would be suit­able. Some ar­gued that in­tro­duc­ing isiZulu, the home lan­guage spo­ken by the ma­jor­ity of par­ents with learn­ers at the school, would be un­fair to chil­dren of par­ents speak­ing isiXhosa, isiNde­bele, siSwati, Se­sotho, Se­pedi, Setswana, Tshiv­enda and Xit­songa. Other speak­ers re­jected the call for change by say­ing that the time was not “ripe” to yank Afrikaans out of the cur­ricu­lum. Still oth­ers said the lack of in­dus­trial and eco­nomic power by black Africans meant that their chil­dren would “suf­fer to find em­ploy­ment” if the school aban­doned Afrikaans, be­cause Afrikan­ers were still “cap­tains of in­dus­try and own­ers of the econ­omy”.

So, democ­racy pre­vailed. Afrikaans was re­tained by the same gen­er­a­tion that fought tooth and nail against the dom­i­nance of that lan­guage, and buried thou­sands who were mur­dered by the apartheid regime in try­ing to ram this very lan­guage down our throats.

Which brings me to con­clude that AfriFo­rum has no rea­son to worry. It does not need to lift a fin­ger to save Afrikaans be­cause black Africans have taken it upon them­selves to save it.

The man fac­ing an up­hill battle is Le­sufi, along with his team, who sud­denly have to con­vince black Africans why it is im­por­tant for their chil­dren to learn their lan­guages. Will any­one join them in de­fend­ing our ver­nac­u­lar, I won­der.

Are par­ents sti­fling mother tongue ed­u­ca­tion? What can be done to en­cour­age us­ing all lan­guages in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word LAN­GUAGE and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

– Hopewell Radebe

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