White Man, You Will Learn Zulu


So, Matthew and I went back and forth about the touchy subjects of this blogpost. Albeit, we differed on many points, the ultimate purpose is to drive some form of discussion about the subject. The languge debate deserves more headlines as it is one of the major underlying themes that both Mat and I agreed that this country has struggled to deal with accordingly. Enjoy the article, and read wih caution…

Johnny Clegg, a poster child of the laanguge debate. He got it right, why can't we?

Johnny Clegg, a poster child of the language debate. He got it right, why can’t we?

A new policy will come into effect in 2014 instructing the learning of an African language in all schools. The move within basic education is similar to other initiative within higher education, as the University of KwaZulu Natal has announced its intention to make isiZulu language classes compulsory for all first-year students from 2014. The purpose of this new policy is “for unity in our country” as described  by a spokesperson for the department of basic education they further elaborate that the policy’s purpose as being that which will bring about “social cohesion.”

South Africa is a country blessed with eleven official languages but bilingualism is not a visible feature of the society we live in. Languages are still strongly divided along racial lines within our schools with English and Afrikaans predominately adopted by white and coloured students whilst vernacular languages are adopted by black students. So isn’t this a good policy (one of a very few by this department), that will force us to appreciate each other’s languages.

We would give our left nipple to hear what Afrikaaner politician, comedian and part-time musician Steve Hofmeyr thinks about these laws

We would give our left nipple to hear what Afrikaaner politician, comedian and part-time musician Steve Hofmeyr thinks about these laws

There appears to be a  fundamental flaw in the policy though, one of the African languages from which learners would be permitted to pick from would be Afrikaans. If Afrikaans is counted as an African language, what will meaningfully change in the current situation? If the purpose of the policy is to bring about “greater social cohesion”, as well as the need to raise the status of “previously marginalized” languages then why is Afrikaans viewed as an African language.

If Afrikaans can indeed be substituted for a majority language like isiXhosa or isiZulu, in the policy’s parameters, then the department has open themselves up to the suggestion that they are not meaningfully shifting the status quo.

White leaners will still pick English and Afrikaans as their languages of choice at schools and there will be no social cohesion to speak of.

Since 1976, language has been a little bit awkward to monitor

Since 1976, language has been a little bit awkward to monitor

There seems to be this perception that introducing vernacular languages into our education institutions some how lowers the standard of that particular institution. I ask though how is getting students to learn IsiZulu at a higher education institution like UKZN lowering anything other than introducing learners to a language that is predominately spoken within that province. Doesn’t that benefit the student as it open up their mind to a completely different language enabling them to communicate with another race?

Multilingualism in South African education is a policy on paper and this has been the case since 1996.  “Language in Education Policy”, clearly states that “being multilingual should be a defining characteristic of being South African”, in order to “counter any particularistic ethnic chauvinism or separatism through mutual understanding.”

If this is the case why are we so scared to introduce IsiZulu and Xhosa amongst other vernacular languages into our schools and institutions of higher learning?

The Department of Education needs to stop playing around here, either they formulate a language policy that will bring about a real change and bring marginalized languages to the fore-front or keep the status co.

Para-phasing Mandela ‘speak to a person in a language he understands and you speak to his head, speak to him in his own language and you speak to his heart.’

We once heard that the man above can speak all 11 official languages. His name is Joe Mafela.  #FoodForThought

We once heard that the man above can speak all 11 official languages. His name is Joe Mafela. #FoodForThought

That’s our piece and tell them you heard it from Matt “The Rat” Mkhize. 

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