By Sandiso Bazana
Reading the Times Live article about the introduction of Mandarin in South African schools made me question the vision that African leaders have of Africa and whether they see Africa prospering on its own — have they given up on the ideal once proclaimed by leaders such as Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara and other Pan-Africanist idealists.
Some of the comments in the article read: “English needed to be a priority as this was the medium of business locally.” Another commenter said: “Everyone needs to learn Mandarin even Americans coz the Chinese are getting stronger economically and their population is vast. Swallow your pride and learn it.”
What is important for me is the fact that this will not be mandatory. I mean, already we have all these European languages (French, Italian, English etc) in our education system and people continue to proclaim English as the “business language”, creating an impression that this cannot be altered, it’s absurd!
Language is culture. And the Chinese culture has “sadly” become the big deal in the 21st century. Learning their language means learning their culture and consequently, the stereotypes about Chinese people will “die down”. A phenomenon I expect our African leaders to pursue, considering how African cultures have been trampled upon, undermined and still undermined.
The world is shifting its focus from the so called “developed” countries to emerging economies and China is slowly becoming the powerhouse of the world. The launch of the Brics bank confirms the shift from the dollar to the yen, from English to Mandarin or even Russian — from the IMF to the Brics bank. And the “parasites”, us Africans, who are always expecting handouts, are just positioning ourselves.
It’s only natural for Mandarin to be a global language because China is slowly taking over the world.
Due to, partly, our vision-less African leaders in terms of mainstreaming the African economy to be the best in the world and have everyone gunning for (eg) Swahili, seems rather impossible. Such an idea died with brother leader Muammar Gaddafi — if the news that he was planning to introduce an African currency are true. I bet it was going to be an Arabic language not even any of the indigenous African languages.
The current puppets (our leaders) are just hopping on any moving train because they have no idea of initiating a cultural renewal in Africa that will see us (Africans) play a major influential role in the world economy, even though we supply the world with some of the most important resources.
So, I personally look at this approach by South Africa as a strategic move to prepare young South Africans’ “begging” skills as we are doing with English. The plan is to entrench Mandarin so as to allow the young generation to communicate (beg) with their future colonisers, because Chinese people (real Chinese people) have complete disregard for English and will dismiss any beggar who cannot speak Mandarin (in the future).
Mugabe’s wife is fluent in Mandarin, a couple of Americans are currently taking Mandarin lessons. This is serious!
Africa is in serious need of visionary leadership, the kind of leadership that sees beyond the immediate. Leadership that is tapping into the most important resource for the growth of Africa’s economy, the internal trade regionally and continentally. This type of leadership must be dedicated to the people of Africa, not to their immediate families. It must see the growth prospects of Africa depending on itself not relying on some messiah (whether China, Russia, France, Britain or America). This leadership must be aware of the factors that fight against the development and self-reliance of the continent, and must strive for the unification of the continent.
South Africa and Nigeria were once pivotal players in ensuring the repositioning of Africa in the global economy but, due to leaders not seeing the bigger picture, our hopes on these two countries creating a united and economically stable Africa continue to get dampened.
Pride, ignorance, jealousy and unnecessary competition including the desire to get wealthy quick has swelled the minds of our leaders on who we had pinned our hopes for the renaissance of Africa
South Africa’s participation in Brics for instance is not celebrated by other African countries especially, Nigeria, Botswana etc partly because it is not seen as a strategic positioning for the gains of the continent, but is seen as a platform to benefit South Africa. We heard President Jacob Zuma talking about the need for South Africans to refrain from thinking like Africans.
South Africa, rather rhetorically, maintains that the launch of the Brics bank will support the developmental agenda of Africa. How? No details are given, just that Africa’s infrastructural projects will be funded by the Brics bank. South Africa has not done enough to mobilise support of other African leaders. Some African leaders argue that South Africa has not done much to position Africa in the G20 countries.
So, the fuss about Mandarin is really unnecessary especially for those who are following developments in the world. Until this generation of African leaders disappears, Africa will remain the pawn of the big economies. Until Africa rejuvenates its indigenous knowledge systems Africa will remain a victim of history. Visionary leaders are needed now more than ever before!
Sandiso Bazana is a lecturer at Rhodes University.