Submitted by Boitumelo Magolego

Being called African and/or South African, in my estimation, is a politically correct euphemism or synonym for calling one black (black referring to a non-homogenous people originally called the Bantu). An euphemism, because depending on one’s so-called race, calling a person black may be construed as being pejorative. A synonym, because it may be used as an indirect reference to the so-called blacks, in an attempt to make other so-called racial groups feel included when they are in actual fact being excluded. I believe racial taxonomy exists partly because of the socialisation, indoctrination and history to which we have been exposed.

I am of the opinion that the so-called Caucasian Afrikaans people of South Africa are both Africans and South Africans (in the broader spatial and historical contexts of the terms). I am also of the opinion that these so-called Afrikaans-speaking people have a right to protect and preserve the Afrikaans language.

At the University of Pretoria, as a result of certain historical factors, lectures are offered in both English and Afrikaans. The material presented and handed out is duplicated for the English and Afrikaans classes. These classes generally occur in different lecture halls and at different times. The Afrikaans class demographic almost wholly comprises so-called Caucasian Afrikaans students; the English class often comprises so-called non-Afrikaans Caucasian students and the so-called blacks. The students from these two classes rarely interact with each other.

The possible insidious effects of this division will be illustrated by way of example: a so-called Caucasian Afrikaner boy goes to a laerskool and then a hoërskool, on both occasions attending Afrikaans lessons. He then proceeds to varsity where he further continues this practice. A fundamental question is: When during this boy’s childhood development does he learn to interact with the so-called black people on a peer level? Are we expected to believe that the boy does not have a melanin-devoid, skewed perception of life? How do we expect this boy to interact with so-called black people when first introduced to so-called black peers in the work environment? How do we expect him ever to come to accept and fully comprehend the effects of South Africa’s treacherous past?

We do not, simply because we have robbed him of the opportunity to normalise himself relative to his surroundings. One can argue that the so-called black student could be tarred with the same brush. This cannot, however, be thus because by virtue of attending English classes, the so-called black child will inevitably interact with so-called white children. The one opposing argument is: Does this article aim to imply that so-called black children who never encounter so-called white children as a result of attending institutions formerly termed black will not be able to interact with so-called white people?

No, that is not so. The Afrikaner-boy example was merely to illustrate one of the possible consequences of this insidious division. What this article is saying is that a culture of reconciliation needs to be fostered, and creating institutional walls does nothing more than hinder this process. There is no denying that inter-racial interaction will benefit all parties, precisely because of the polarising effect the socialisation, indoctrination and history to which we have been exposed have had.

Another problem with this language separation is that it may reinforce a nationalist notion that may be divorced from the country’s vision. These enclaves may foster isolationist solidarity and perpetuate a them-and-us attitude. It may create unnecessary perceptions that when one lecture group performs better than another, it is because one group is getting more information than the other — or the more insidious view that one is more intelligent than the other. By default, when student grades are compared, the statistics are fashioned along the lines of English and Afrikaans groups. The division of lessons creates an unhealthy juxtaposition that is counter to the reconciliatory attitude said to be embraced by South Africans in general.

A possible remedy to this situation is to adopt English as a universal medium of instruction in South Africa; however, there is concern regarding the unilateral adoption of English in all spheres of society. There is a greater cost to be paid in sidelining the 10 other languages from formal economic and tertiary education presence.

Language is said to be an important channel to express a people’s culture, norms and values. Does the adoption of a single language not mean that the other 10 cultures will disappear into obscurity? Does the adoption of a single language not betray our nation’s hard-won and much celebrated diversity?

I believe language offers diction to best express culture and should not necessarily dictate culture. The adoption of a lukewarm language policy will probably further decay the cavities of all of South Africa’s languages. It is better to take a stance on the issue and decide how, then, the other languages can be supported in order to remain true and loyal to our diversity.

I believe a decision on any solution (be it the adoption of English or not) needs to take a careful measure of the drawbacks that the homogenisation of certain spheres of society via linguistic uniformity would have; that is, how it would curtail expressive, linguistic and cultural diversity. Equally so, a measure of the benefits this linguistic uniformity would have needs to be undertaken; that is, how it would affect national reconciliation, peace, stability and prosperity. These measures are by no means binary but rather lie on a continuum; thus any analysis should take this into cognisance.

Does the political will exist to bring about this change? Or, more pertinently, does the personal conviction exist to bring about this change? I believe that there is and will be resistance, which is and will be fuelled by, among other factors, fear of the unknown, ignorance, perceived victimisation, feelings of persecution, perceived uneven-handedness in the application of justice and psychological complexes.

So what should we do? Should we sit back and say that this is an intractable problem and thus it should be left to the powers that be? I believe that South Africa cannot afford to carry on outsourcing its thinking to Europe and the United States. That is, we cannot keep waiting for the so-called West to get it right first before we try to implement our own solutions.

South Africans (in the broader spatial and historical contexts) cannot allow themselves to tolerate any form of institutionalised division, more so as a consequence of language. We need to look beyond our personal agenda and think about what is best for the country.

Boitumelo Magolego was born in the northern townships of Pretoria and spent his formative years living in rural Limpopo. He completed his electronic engineering honours degree as a Mandela Rhodes Scholar at the University of Pretoria.

Melo (as he is commonly called) is wondering why Coke fizzes when you add ice to it. Talk about taking a chill pill …


Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Mandela Rhodes Scholars

Mandela Rhodes Scholars who feature on this page are all recipients of The Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, awarded by The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and are members...

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