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Afrikaans still imposed on learners at the expense of other African languages

Education is universally the most powerful tool for the emancipation, liberation and empowerment of the oppressed and marginalised. It is also the backbone to all life and fundamental to spiritual dynamism, moral integrity, personal freedom, political stability and economic growth.

Language is critical for African learners as it is for English and Afrikaans-speaking learners to access, comprehend and master content and language subjects. But African learners in former white schools have never been afforded the right to learn an African language, even at second-language level. The educational suppression of African learners is historical and structurally systematic because it is imposed on most if not all former white schools in South Africa. As the South African version of democracy unfolded and amid the mirage of a number of “democratic” agendas such as affirmative action and broad-based black economic empowerment, just to mention a few, teaching an African language in former white schools has been consistently overlooked. This despite the hard-earned powers bestowed upon the minister and MECs of education to decisively enforce language and educational equality. This despite voluminous legislation to affirm language equality in education, despite the media’s coverage of the language debate, despite research findings affirming that African learners’ poor academic performance in former white schools, especially in Gauteng, is directly attributable to language inequality. It has become almost natural and expected even to African parents that learners should perform poorly in white schools. African learners come home mostly with awards for the fastest runner, cleanest learner, widest smile and such like.

Language is critical for the psychological development of all children. Oppressors master this principle better than liberators do. June 16 1976 marked a revolt against the oppressor’s language being imposed on black pupils. Moral justice, political unity and economic prosperity are still intrinsically undermined by language inequality in education. Somehow former white schools are still barbarised by the false consciousness of “purism”. They perceive teaching and learning an African language at “their” school as adulterous to “their” language and school system.

Language is critical for the cognitive and identity development of a child. Politically language is an issue because it is only African learners who are affected. Unequal language opportunities delay many African learners from accessing economically related subjects and as such it is African learners who graduate with degrees which are deemed “irrelevant” to the economic market.

This article does not advocate for African children to be taught in their respective African languages as a first language in former white schools. I am reasonable and responsible enough to observe that, that objective is unachieveable in the current and near future. What this article advocates for is the mandatory teaching and learning of an African language as a second language (instead of Afrikaans) in former white schools, public and private.

Language teachers could be recruited from reputable institutions such as the Pan South African Language Board, Unisa etc and rotated between former white schools in the same geographical cluster. No less than two African languages should be provided. These languages could be an African language spoken by the majority of the African learners from the Sotho and Nguni groups ie one Sotho and one Nguni language.