ATKV to boost all children’s chances
Le Hanie, first woman head, says Afrikaans Plus vision is proudly Afrikaans, but not selfishly so
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”.
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.