Accommodating cultural and linguistic diversity promotes constitutional democracy

2013-01-02 16:06

The preamble to the Constitution starts with " We the people of South Africa" and immediately projects the vision of a constitutional enterprise that is accommodating and inclusive of  the diverse cultures and languages in the country! With freedom of expression(opinion) being indispensable to that enterprise,it would be axiomatic that a person would be free to express him or herself in the language with which he or she is comfortable.Theoretically that's the ideal but in practice the dominant language are English and Afrikaans! The result,I surmise, is a sense of alienation experienced by those whose mother tongue is one of the official languages other than English or Afrikaans.

 So what is happening to the principle of accommodation (or inclusivity) that is enshrined in the Constitution?  Why is English and Afrikaans the major language of debates and discussion in Parliament and in Government?

We must recognize the fact that the majority in Parliament are not fully conversant with either and, I submit, this is the case  where a handful dominate the debates and discourse  we read in Hansard for instance! We need, as an imperative,to accommodate the diversity that informs our rainbow nation. It is this absence or lack of accommodation of the marginalised that is festering deep wounds in the crevices of our society.

As a result, for instance, Professor Jonathan Jansen's book [ We need to talk] very astutely observes (at page 81) that we are breading a new generation of youths who 'are  learning early to be angry, deadly angry,(sic) without adult intervention and without political or pedagogical correction'. This  seems to be confirmed by Mamphela Ramphele [ Conversations with My Sons and Daughters] in which she addresses the youth in response to their growing despair.

My point is that there are serious cracks appearing in the foundation stone cemented in the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution. There is a sense of betrayal being articulated by the marginalised majority and despite the outcome of # Mangaung 2012, both Jansen and Ramphele urge young  ( and not so young) South Africans to  take charge  and responsibly occupy seats and centres of power and to confront the growing malady that is undermining, inter alia but especially, good governance,social justice and stability.

 I get the sense as Thabo Mbeki  [ Africa- the time has come] has written that it is about time that Africa shaped it's destiny side by side with the East and the West without being beholden to either. I agree. And I believe that South Africa has the potential and the capacity to chart the w I find it ironic that  we critique  and excoriate the west and yet we continue to slavishly pay homage through practice its ways!Have we, as Mbeki alludes to,no indigenous alternatives? I believe we do.

This is what writers like Ngugi wa Thiong'o(Colonising the mind)Mamphela Ramphele(Conversations with my Sons and Daughters) etc forcefully posit!

 How do we go about doing this? Government and civil society organisation, I submit,need to   provide space for the diversity that constitutes our[rainbow] nation. We must provide for all 11 languages to find expression in the public domain! As I have argued elsewhere especially in the social media, in agreement with Ramphele the technology exists that makes it possible for instant translation and interpretation of all languages and that includes languages spoken by immigrants to South Africa. Government needs to invest in such technology and make it accessible to everyone in need. There must be the political will to make this happen! This is where the problem lies. The body is willing but the mind is not. The time to decolonise the mindset, to borrow from Ngugi  wa Thiong'o [ Decolonising the Mind] is here and now.

Steve Bantu Biko planted ,through his philosophy of [Black Consciousness], the seeds but powerful vested interests managed to genetically modify that with mere words in the Constitution at the drafting stages. The Constitution does not have to be amended in any way for its provisions are wide enough for a purposeful interpretation to give the rights enshrined, especially the principle of accommodation,a human face!

I suggest people  read Thabo Mbeki's (1998) book [Africa-the time has come]. Mbeki,seem to follow through what Ngugi wa Thiong'o lamented aeons ago and his point is that a  hybrid afrocentric solution was imperative! We are responsible for the death or relegation of our indigenous languages and cultures and we had to rouse ourselves from the throes of inertia!

We need to accommodate all cultures and languages, or the goals such as that attempted by the National Planning Commission won't germinate  or they'll be stillborn! Our Constitutional Court confirmed that the principle of reasonable accommodation was very much an inalienable one under the Constitution!

Apart from Ramphele, we have Njabulo Ndebele [Fine Lines from the Box],Moletsi Mbeki [ Architects of Poverty] ,Prince Mashele [The Death of our Society] and Xolela  Mangcu [The Democratic Moment- South Africa's Prospects under Jacob Zuma] amongst others and , after reading their books, I get the distinct impression that they are ad idem that by embracing western values, we are playing the role of pall bearers at the funeral of indigenous

languages and cultures and I can argue the same applies to minority cultures and languages! Despite the Constitutional Court affirming that the principle of accommodation is articulated and enshrined under the constitution, we seem to be adrift of its constitutional moorings.

Relevant to this is [The Poverty of Ideas, edited by William Gumede and Leslie Dikeni] concerning what constitutes the role and what is the responsibility of SA intellectuals! As the title of the book suggests,we seem to have run out of ideas and that is why the National Development Plan has to be analysed and critiqued as a work in progress.

We have to address the issues I raise through a proactive national discourse or dialogue for what I interpreted issuing from #Mangaung 2012 was the arterial occlusion of space for debate,dissent and public dialogue that started from the Mbeki administration days. Not all shades of opinion,especially those by indigenous Africans who best articulate in their mother tongue,find their way to the public domain and that leads to frustration and anger and despair that they are not taken seriously!

Our society is dying, as Mashele opines, and our tardiness in recognizing the value of multiculturalism  through according space for all cultures and languages especially through dialogue and debate where people are permitted to articulate and contribute in their indigenous languages with which they are comfortable is the festering problem that we must rectify!

Saber Ahmed Jazbhay

1.1.2013

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