Do not wrong our fellow citizens!
Press Release by the National Language Body for Afrikaans on 26 June 2004
Afrikaans users of all shades, classes and convictions heard with dismay in the past week of the following statement in parliament by the Minister of Education, ms. Naledi Pandor:
"Our approach ... is to strengthen the teaching of English as a second language in all levels of schooling. The aim of this approach is to enable pupils to use English as a language of teaching and learning beyond the first three years of schooling."
This statement implies that the Department of Education is bent on maintaining the inequities of the past, namely, an education system in which learners with an African language as home language are not granted the same rights, opportunities and privileges as Afrikaans and English speaking learners. The latter can receive instruction through their home languages up to matric - and even at tertiary level - but African language speakers have to make a rapid transition to an alien tongue as medium of instruction after the third school year. We find it difficult to understand how the government can not only tolerate this legacy of colonialism and apartheid, but even seek to maintain and entrench it further. It amounts to systematic and policy based discrimination against those who were already victims of discrimination in the past.
The history of South Africa already contains one unhappy example of the enforcement of a language, which led to serious conflict, and our plea is that this mistake not be repeated in a country where eleven official langages are recognised in the Constitution. The right to mother tongue education is protected by the Constitution, and the fact that, due to a lack of government support, it repeatedly fails to become a reality, is cause for sadness among speakers of languages other than English in South Africa. The minister herself, during a multilingualism conference in Parliament on 23 February 2004 in Cape Town, had the following to say on the privileging of one language over others in SA: "Any argument for a special status for Afrikaans or any other language is difficult to sustain in a democratic South Africa", and also added: "we cannot justify the neglect of any of the languages of South Africa, or the unfair promotion of one of them".
According to the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), "the advantages of teaching children in their maternal language go beyond academic success to include cultural, emotional, cognitive and socio-psychological benefits". This statement expresses a world wide consensus among educationists and linguists. Afrikaans speakers know the benefits of instruction through the home language from experience. We therefore find it unacceptable that we are able to exercise this right, together with English speakers, while it is not granted to the majority of our fellow citizens.
We would like to emphasise that we are not opposed to improved teaching of English as an additional language. On the contrary, we are strongly in favour of strengthening the teaching of all our official languages at school. Home language instruction and mastering English (and other languages) do not exclude one another, as many an Afrikaans speaker can testify. However, if English is taught with the aim of promoting English medium instruction for non English speakers, as the Minister implies, then we have to protest loudly. In the past, Afrikaans was enforced on learners through the school system. To do the same with English now would be just as catastrophic for our nation.
We as Afrikaans speakers insist that the rights and benefits we already enjoy be extended to all South Africans. The Department of Education should make available textbooks and curriculum material in all official languages, and make it possible for matrics to write their exam in any official language. Learners who are still being taught through a language other than their home language - and that includes black learners in former model C schools - should also receive learning materials in their home language so as to ease the learning process. Teachers should be trained to use African languages as mediums of instruction and to deal with multilingual classrooms, and multilingualism should be furthered in the profession.
We request, furthermore, that, next to English, the teaching of African languages as additional languages in Afrikaans medium schools and the teaching of other official languages in formerly black schools be strengthened as a matter of urgency.
The time is past when Afrikaans and English speaking South Africans received preferential treatment while the majority were treated as second class citizens ... or is it?
Dr. Christa van Louw (chair)
LitNet: 30 Junie 2004
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