ATKV to boost all chil­dren’s chances

Le Hanie, first woman head, says Afrikaans Plus vi­sion is proudly Afrikaans, but not self­ishly so

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

FOR­MER IT ex­ec­u­tive Dei­dre le Hanie con­fessed she was tak­ing Afrikaans lessons.

If this seems un­re­mark­able in it­self – Afrikaans reg­is­tered in the lat­est cen­sus, after all, as a grow­ing lan­guage in all nine prov­inces, its 6.8 mil­lion speak­ers mak­ing it South Africa’s third most-spo­ken lan­guage after Zulu and Xhosa – what is un­ex­pected in Le Hanie’s case is that she has just been ap­pointed man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the 87-year-old Afrikaanse Taal- en Kul­tu­urverenig­ing (Afrikaans Lan­guage and Cul­ture As­so­ci­a­tion).

While the fact of Le Hanie be­ing the first woman to be given the post – a doubt­less dar­ing propo­si­tion at any other time in the ATKV’s ear­lier his­tory – is no less note­wor­thy to­day, it is the no-non­sense busi­ness­woman’s strate­gic vi­sion in 2017 that most force­fully re­flects the intellectual and op­er­a­tional ren­o­va­tion welling at the core of this one-time bas­tion of Afrikaner and apartheid chau­vin­ism.

In fact, the re­make, a marked cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal ad­just­ment has been un­der way in the ATKV since the early 1990s when it dropped its whites-only mem­ber­ship cri­te­rion and ac­tively pro­moted Afrikaans as “a lan­guage of dif­fer­ent cul­tures”, a bind­ing agent across so­ci­ety.

Its arts and cul­tural pro­grammes have served as a launch pad for young tal­ents, many of whom – such as up-and-com­ing so­prano Palesa Malieloa, win­ner of the 2016 ATKV-Muz­iqanto Com­pe­ti­tion, the coun­try’s most pres­ti­gious clas­si­cal vo­cal con­test – would have been ex­cluded in the past.

And, of course, the broader Afrikaans-speak­ing com­mu­nity to­day goes well be­yond the lim­its imag­ined by the ATKV founders, 12 Afrikan­ers from dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the rail­way ser­vices who set the ball rolling in Cape Town on Tues­day Au­gust 19, 1930.

The lead­ing men, back then, Edwin Robert Car­ney and Sy­brand (Sy­bie) Ja­cobus van der Spuy, had in mind an or­gan­i­sa­tion that could bol­ster the pride and iden­tity of the many thou­sands of un­skilled Afrikan­ers com­pelled to move into the cities dur­ing the de­pres­sion years.

The fate of newly ur­ban­is­ing Afrikan­ers nearly a cen­tury ago res­onates to­day in a way that Le Hanie be­lieves so­ci­ety in gen­eral and the ATKV in par­tic­u­lar can­not over­look.

And her “Afrikaans Plus” vi­sion – in­clud­ing grow­ing the mem­ber­ship from to­day’s 70 000 monthly sub­scribers (40% of them coloured, 3%black) to one mil­lion by early next year – is fo­cused de­lib­er­ately on the broader con­tem­po­rary chal­lenge in South Africa.

At the ATKV’s first me­dia func­tion with the English me­dia re­cently, Le Hanie was flanked by two elo­quent ad­vo­cates of ATKV projects, Ruschda O’Shea, prin­ci­pal of Tafel­sig High in Mitchells Plain, and Rally Tsoari, deputy chief ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist at Ekurhu­leni South District in Gaut­eng.

Both tes­ti­fied to the ma­te­rial im­pact of ATKV pro­grammes in help­ing bat­tling schools – prac­ti­cal ini­tia­tives for teach­ers, pupils, even par­ents which, in a Gaut­eng ex­am­ple, lifted a school’s ma­tric pass rate from 54% in 2015 to 84% last year and, over three years at Tafel­sig, which had a dis­mal 52% pass in 2010, de­liv­ered a 93% pass last year.

The schools pro­grammes were launched four years ago when the AGM “re­quested the board to get in­volved in ed­u­ca­tion”.

But, Le Hanie said, with a bud­get of only R92 mil­lion (raised from in­come from the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s seven re­sorts, its pub­lish­ing com­pany, Lapa, and the mem­bers’ R81-a-month fees), “our reach is limited”.

She was con­vinced it did not have to be.

“There must be mil­lions who want to change the course of things in this coun­try and change kids’ lives.” And her am­bi­tion, she said, was to har­ness their sup­port.

The need was great; South Africa had some 21 000 schools that were “need­ing se­ri­ous at­ten­tion”. If the ATKV could ex­tend its reach be­yond the cur­rent limit of 1 000 schools over four years, it could have a much greater im­pact.

As Gaut­eng ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cial Tsoari put it: “Of­ten, teach­ers feel they have no hope, but with in­ter­ven­tion, it is pos­si­ble to over­come this – and the ATKV is the first to help in this area.

“If the or­gan­i­sa­tion could broaden and repli­cate this, we will see change on a much big­ger scale.”

Le Hanie ac­knowl­edged that her con­cep­tion of the po­ten­tial for the ATKV was a big step for the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“But if we look at life in South Africa to­day and what’s hap­pen­ing in our schools, we have to make fun­da­men­tal ad­just­ments and take steps to change our core func­tion.

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road… un­less you fail to make the turn.”

Her pre­de­ces­sors in the or­gan­i­sa­tion had “built an in­cred­i­bly sta­ble foun­da­tion” that al­lowed the present gen­er­a­tion “to con­tinue pur­su­ing what we have al­ways done, plus to go into com­mu­ni­ties where we have not had a reach be­fore”.

Us­ing lan­guage in this way to con­trib­ute to the coun­try in “an in­clu­sive, rel­e­vant, dy­namic and cred­i­ble way” was a source of hope and “stim­u­lates op­ti­mism”.

“I can see the fu­ture and the con­tri­bu­tion that ATKV can make to mil­lions of chil­dren out there. Of course, you can­not force it on com­mu­ni­ties. You have to take peo­ple with you by mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing you do is a con­tri­bu­tion to im­prov­ing chil­dren’s chances.”

This was not some­thing so­ci­ety could leave to the state.

“I don’t think we have the lux­ury of not deal­ing with the big prob­lems; we must try and sup­port peo­ple, of­fer guid­ance and talk about changes, even in high-level ex­changes with the gov­ern­ment.”

Le Hanie an­tic­i­pated some re­sis­tance to her broader strat­egy – and only a few weeks ago, Free­dom Front Plus leader Pi­eter Mul­der raised doubts about the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s new out­look, say­ing he would “join thou­sands of other Afrikaanss­peak­ing ATKV mem­bers in re­serv­ing judge­ment on the ‘new’ ATKV as well as the new man­ag­ing di­rec­tor”.

How­ever, Le Hanie said: “I be­lieve the fact that four years ago, the AGM urged the ex­ec­u­tive team to get in­volved in our bro­ken ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem means they have the heart for it.

“It does not mean we will not have some op­po­si­tion.”

She said that when she was in­ter­viewed for the job, one of the “most in­ter­est­ing” ques­tions was what her po­si­tion was on Afrikaans as a lan­guage of tu­ition in schools.

“And I said, ‘It’s not about Afrikaans only, but about ev­ery child hav­ing their ed­u­ca­tion in their mother tongue.’”

She said pre­serv­ing Afrikaans was “the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ev­ery Afrikaans-speak­ing per­son”.

“We can­not pass our re­spon­si­bil­ity on to schools or gov­ern­ing bod­ies. If we want our chil­dren to speak Afrikaans and there are enough of them, there will be Afrikaans uni­ver­si­ties or Xhosa and Tswana uni­ver­si­ties. But it starts at home, with par­ents.”

In its essence, she said, her “Afrikaans Plus” vi­sion was “still proudly Afrikaans, but not self­ishly so”.

“The ob­jec­tive is not to alien­ate Afrikan­ers, but to in­clude oth­ers.”

And, it’s worth not­ing, along with those Afrikaans lessons, Le Hanie is to em­bark on learn­ing a third lan­guage, the corol­lary of her view that “we have to live the change in what we say or do”.

PIC­TURES: SUPPLIED

Chil­dren at a school in Verge­noeg, Kim­ber­ley, take part in the ATKV Han­de­vat project.

Par­tic­i­pants in the fi­nals of the ATKV’s an­nual multi-lin­gual choir com­pe­ti­tion.

Dei­dre le Hanie, the first woman to head the 87-yearold Afrikaanse Taal en Kul­tu­urverenig­ing.

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