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The question of colonialism has come to the fore again, courtesy of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) and its vehement objection to the introduction of the Chinese Mandarin dialect to local schools.
The Chinese government, keen to unify its disparate territories, refers to this major dialect as Chinese; basic education minister Angie Motshega calls it the “language of Confucius”, which merely adds to the confusion.
Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke labelled the introduction of Chinese as “colonialism”. And he warned that it will be resisted by the union “with everything that we have”.
This presents a change of political tack for Sadtu since the union has traditionally been one of the most vocally loyal of government supporters. Many of the union’s leading members, who are members of the SA Communist Party (SACP), have also been highly supportive of China and its ruling Communist Party (CCP).
However, supporters of the move have pointed out that since China is South Africa’s major trading partner, “Mandarin” should be on offer, an optional subject in the same way as are the languages of other trading partners, such as French, Italian and Spanish.
Language is, therefore, one issue, colonialism another. Especially since, historically, language followed gunboats and the physical conquest of territories.
The irony is, China is governed by the CCP and is regarded by unions such as Sadtu, as well as the SACP, as “socialist”. Therefore it could not, in their eyes, be a colonial power.
But such problems of reality contradicting ideology can be glossed over by a suitable coat of polemical rhetoric. That was what happened when Josef Stalin’s Comintern decreed in 1928, against all the available evidence, that South Africa was a colony.
It created problems since South Africa was clearly no colony in any accepted sense. So reality was bent to the needs of ideology and after the SACP was founded in 1953, it decreed that what existed in South Africa was “colonialism of a special type” or CST.
So Sadtu should not resist, because the answer is clear: if a colonial situation arises regarding China, perhaps the union should simply accept it as a beneficial CCST or Colonial Communism of a Special Type.