Deny it or admit it, our government is pro-English and anti-African languages. The lack of intents to develop African languages is so explicit it cannot be denied. English is perceived as a unifying language. Unfortunately this is half-truth because in essence, it is the systemic tool for the exclusion of the African languages speakers in the economic arena. It is the subversion of the status of African languages. As a young student, I once had a telephonic conversation with Dr Neville Alexander who was the chief advisor of the government in the issues of linguistic rights and development; he was honest with me and revealed that the government is just not for the development of indigenous languages. He stated ethnocentrism and tribalism as the two scary factors they feared. To this day we, the speakers of African languages, are denied access to the economic playgrounds through English.
To explore the government’s perception of African languages, let us look at the issue of Language in Education. The government policy allows children to learn in their mother tongue from grade 0-3, this is a phase where children are being equipped with the necessary tools to survive the education canal. They learn to read, to count, to conceptualise and reason. When they get to grade 4 they are introduced to the content subjects, they begin to learn each subject matter independently. Ironically, this is the phase where the government says they must now be taught in English. Think of this carefully, you were taught to read isiZulu and have learnt form a, e, i, o, u to gcwa, gcwe, gcwi and the following year you come to grade 4 and suddenly you are taught terms like Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism. How on earth was a child equipped for this? Is the 10 year old expected to master English and take in contextual information simultaneously? If you are a teacher you will agree when I say you spend a good time teaching terminology and definitions instead of delivering the core information in the subject matter. Even the tests are full of definitions where one has to fill in the missing words or match column A to B with definitions juxtaposed to terms. To assist learners, teachers eventually resort to code-switching. They teach in mother tongue which helps a great deal for ultimately learners will grasp the concepts. However, the problem will remain, as the learners are unable to decode the questions in the assessments since they are in English. Yes, yes you are right; it is the same plight we see in the matric class of the township and rural schools. Now this system is set so that half of the population can drop out of the schooling system. It also ascertain that a huge number of black learners with no linguistic intelligence to grasp English suffer from lack of self-esteem and ultimately jettison their goals.
When I enrolled at Sivananda Technical High School in KwaMashu in 1997, we had standard 6A to 6H. There were about 300 of us. In 2001 when we matriculated, there was Grade 12A to 12C and there were only 96 of us. Do not ask me what happened to the rest! This is the story of the township high schools. English slashed half of the learners and this storyline has not changed a bit. The government of the day has it on paper that one can get mother tongue education if you want it, but do you know of a school that offers grade 0-12 in Sesotho? Afrikaans medium? Did you say Afrikaans medium schools? You are right, only Afrikaners seem to push the mother tongue education agenda. However, the government of the day has attacked this with the passing of new anti-Afrikaans-Pro-English language policies for universities and enrolment policies. I suspect this is done because the African language speakers are not supposed to be awakened to the fact that they too, can acquire education in their languages.
Okay let me go deeper; the Department of Basic Education issues workbooks for schools, known in primary schools as the ‘blue book’. The English mother tongue workbook is poorly translated to the other official languages and it was not the teachers who translated it, that I guarantee you. The poor translation is a true undermining of the African language teachers. Don’t be surprised if you find a section that teaches prepositions in isiZulu, yes we do not have them but the English book had them, so the translator included them for he knows nothing about isiZulu morphology. Let’s go a step further; the department offers the English and Afrikaans First Additional Languages (FAL) Workbooks from grade 1-6 but the African languages FAL teachers must see what they use to teach. There is nothing for them. Yes, there is a plan to do it maybe in the next 25 years. Doing it means poorly translating the English FAL workbook to isiZulu, assuming that the languages are the same and can be taught with the same pedagogical approach.
Matric 2017 will be writing their mother tongue literature based on the books utilised for the past 6 years. The English mother tongue class of 2017 will on the other hand enjoy Yann Martel’s 2001 Life of Pi.This is a gross error! The Department is allowed to make such errors around African languages. After all, they do not matter. There is no vision and commitment to develop African languages. The toothless dog that is PanSALB is continuously barking but hey nobody is scared of them. Poor Dr Monareng’s energy that is being wasted in reviving a dog that lost its tooth just after teething. He has no resources and not even capacity to deal with these departments. Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s Arts and Culture ministry is a shameful department. It is packed with minimalists who have titles such as doctors and professors but have no direction and vision. For the past 22 years they have done 10% of what they have a capacity to do for the African Languages. The department spends 80% of their budget on entities (DAC 15/16 APSP). For 22 years we have produced one dictionary in isiZulu. Don’t even ask about other languages! The Department says they are coming for the work is highly technical. Thanks to Mr. Bila and Marhanele who produced and published a Xitsonga Dictionary, in spite of the technicality of the lexicographic work as asserted by the DAC.
If the levels of intelligence are still tantamount to knowledge and fluency in English it means half the black generations are not yet going to taste economic freedom. You might argue that English is an international language. I do agree with this, however we do not have to be educated in the language, we only need to learn it as a language of communication. Just to get the message across. The Chinese, French, Germans, Italians, Egyptians receive education in their languages and learn English or any other language as a communicative language to trade, that is why there are at the forefront of innovation and technological advancements. Thina-ke where are we? Even those who have university degrees are not sure whether they know what they studied. They still go to interviews with butterflies in their tummies, having practiced fluently responding to questions in English in order to stand a better chance. Some do not even take a chance for promotional positions because of lack of fluency in English. Some with expertise in their fields are ‘juniorised’ because they are not confident speakers of the Queen’s parlance in the country of Sobukwe.
Forcing the population to learn in English is like expecting a rooster to fly like and eagle. A rooster has wings to flee danger not to master flying. The African child only needs English to communicate his thoughts not to think and master thinking in English. So the unavailability of mother-tongue education is a deliberate breeding of black slaves. The Government is literally telling us: learn English or voetsek!