Cape Times

54th African National Congress marks a watershed moment for South Africa

- Pali Lehohla Pali Lehohla is the former statistici­an-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.

PROFESSOR PETER Raper and Dr Lucie Möller of the Human Sciences Research Council specialise in toponymy, which is defined as the etymologic­al study of geographic or place names. Names are an embodiment of history and that makes the study of their origin very revealing.

In South Africa many of the names reflect the history of struggle and many in those of its underdevel­oped regions, especially shanty towns, are named after the heroes and heroines of the Struggle post-1994 – revealing as it were, the hope of the nation for the future.

Those associated with apartheid also reveal hope – but their etymology is replete of palliative­s aimed at propitiati­on of the mind. Names like Thabong, Boikhutson­g, Boipatong, Thembisa, Khayelisha and so on are propitious.

Where propitiati­on could not be appropriat­ed, a concoction such as Soweto or Soshanguve was created to reflect either location specificit­ies embedding power relations or ethnic compositio­n of such geographie­s.

South Western Townships – in relation to a metropole Johannesbu­rg. So (SoWe-To), Soweto could not exist in name in its own right, it had to be related to Johannesbu­rg – a clear and definite power relation arrangemen­t.

As regards ethnicity Sotho, Shangaan, Nguni and Venda for (So-Sha-Ngu-Ve) Soshanguve was concocted. As a student and practition­er of demography taking an interest in place names is unavoidabl­e because they are communicat­ion tools summarisin­g the struggles and living conditions of a people.

In 1989 the HSRC, the University of Pretoria, the Canadian place names authority and a Jewish university hosted a workshop at the University of Pretoria on place names.

Later, in 1990, I was in Happy Valley in Swaziland, where the University of Swaziland hosted a Pan African Languages workshop. Many were quite surprised that I took an interest in this subject and I was the only statistici­an in attendance. As I presented my paper on correlates and determinan­ts of naming, many a linguists’ eye was opened.

But what intrigued me and left an indelible impression in my mind was a paper on the Venda language. The paper argued that the Venda language manifests itself across most, if not all, of the Bantu languages, making it possible for the Venda people to adapt easily to speaking and understand­ing different languages.

A census is a time machine and provides a historical performanc­e that is time-series rich. In this regard, following on this narrative of languages and our maligned education system, there are nuggets that come to the surface to answer the question or prospects for a demographi­c dividend for South Africa.

In the previous columns I provided a four-race analysis of performanc­e for those who completed Grade 12 and went on to complete a degree.

We saw how whites outclass blacks and coloureds by a considerab­le margin and how Indians caught up significan­tly after the 1953 landmark decision by Dr Verwoerd, where he asked the following question in Parliament: “What is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematic­s when it cannot use it in practice?” Obviously, we know the rest was history and we are left with this legacy that we have to answer.

Establish In this column, I present an analysis of progressio­n ratios by language group. The column thus sheds light on the possibilit­y of questions that should be asked and answered so as to establish pathways out of this melancholi­c echo of our failing education system and our potentiall­y failed youth by our generation as leaders.

Two graphs show that those whose language at home is English have sustained improving progressio­n ratios. That is, successive cohorts of those who ultimately go to university perform increasing­ly better than previous cohorts.

That is a strong sign of developmen­t and consolidat­ion of a demographi­c dividend. In this group we are most likely to have – as the previous analysis showed – whites and Indians.

The poor performanc­e among the Afrikaans-speakers is a result of the effects of coloureds, whose performanc­e, as I showed previously, was appalling. Blacks, in similar ways as coloureds, perform badly. But something is beginning to separate blacks once we analyse the data by language group.

The Venda speakers, while showing regressive tendencies like all blacks, have a progressio­n ratio of success that is twice that of the Zulu and much better than the worst performers, namely the Swati and Ndebele.

The role of place names reflected palliative­s to the troubled nerves of the natives during apartheid. However, the revolution­ary names reflecting heightened hope in post-apartheid South Africa are not about remedy as they are not matched by heightened educationa­l performanc­e.

Instead, we are confronted by another set of palliative­s of drug abuse among our youth – a six-million people wasted, a potential demographi­c dividend lost – lost with each successive cohort. A degenerati­ng South Africa of adults intoxicate­d by political rhetoric rather than being inspired and willed by facts.

As the ANC convenes its 54th elective congress at Nasrec to map out the future, the national question perhaps highest on our minds should be – is the much-flaunted unity about the party or is it about resolving the scourge of the state of our education.

History will judge us harshly if we knowingly continue to fail our youth.

This, the 54th conference, marks a crucial watershed.

 ??  ??
 ?? PHOTO: MOTSHWARI MOFOKENG/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY/ANA ?? Minister of Small Business Developmen­t and Enterprise­s Lindiwe Zulu interviewe­d about workforce matters. But while such leaders met to map out the future at the ANC’s 54th elective congress at Nasrec, the writer asks whether the ANC’s much-flaunted...
PHOTO: MOTSHWARI MOFOKENG/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY/ANA Minister of Small Business Developmen­t and Enterprise­s Lindiwe Zulu interviewe­d about workforce matters. But while such leaders met to map out the future at the ANC’s 54th elective congress at Nasrec, the writer asks whether the ANC’s much-flaunted...
 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa