Faith Daniels

Verwoerd might be turning in his grave – but that’s none of my business

2016-06-08 07:15

Faith Daniels 

I witnessed a very important event recently. Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi squared off with Afriforum’s Kallie Kriel in a debate on Afrikaans in schools. It was important for a number of reasons. Chief among them was the fact that there’s a strong belief that Afrikaans schools are being targeted and that these schools will soon wither away. 

A Constitutional Court judgment last month seemed to have cemented this belief when justices of the highest court in the land ruled in favour of the department on admissions regulations.

The debate was heated, emotional and brutally honest. The stuff that you’d expect from these two men because that’s just who and how they are. They stand their ground. So nothing surprising there. 

The dysfunctionality of schools was raised – so, too, the influence of teachers union SADTU on the system as a whole. All important issues that government must address. Kriel argued among others that government has a myriad of issues to sort out in these schools, and should do so as a matter of urgency, yet seems fixated on Afirkaans medium schools. 

This was the counter argument – that the dysfunctionality is being attended to but that this doesn’t mean that the pace of transformation must be adjusted, that spaces cannot remain the domain of exclusive communities while a portion of all our taxes go towards funding public education – and that better equipped public schools should be accessed by all parents and therefore all children. 

Further very balanced and well-considered arguments followed. They all centered around the role and importance of Afrikaans and its treatment within the school system. Again we were debating, dissecting, and pouring our hearts out over Afrikaans. 

And I wondered, where’s the debate on how the other nine official languages are treated? Where is the special debate on how to get more literature in schools that depicts the diversity of our country and its languages? Where is the debate that argues for multilingualism rather than bilingualism?

We are debating the status of Afrikaans – the only other language except English in which your child can with ease complete an entire educational career in South Africa. Yet still, we are bothered about whether the language is treated justly and whether it will survive. That in itself is not fair when the constitution upholds and validates the status of all official languages. 

Lesufi mentioned apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd and quipped that the only thing he has in common with him is the name Hendrik. He warned those who had become accustomed to the separation created by Verwoerd that he would do the complete opposite of what the former nationalist leader intended.  

To which Kriel responded, “You have been in power for 22 years, it’s not Hendrik Verwoerd’s fault if you go to a school now and you don’t find a teacher in front of the class.”

A valid point, although misguided. It speaks to how we attempt to argue apartheid and its scars away. “Surely change must have set in by now?” is what it implies, whereas history points to decades of inequality and segregation of the worst kind. A history in which Hendrik Verwoerd did more than just influence education. 

Today the scars are evident, and we are struggling to turn the tide, but it is turning. Our children are hungry for education and every year we see desperate parents knocking on educational doors to look for space. And the doors of learning must open. 

The Verwoerdian idea of a perfectly separated society is not so long gone. But our schools must start reflecting that change in every single aspect of learning and teaching. It’s high time. 

- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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