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Hoërskool Overvaal: Afrikaans' Last Stand

The scenes outside Hoërskool Overvaal were an indication that the 1994 rainbow Kool-aid was indeed losing its taste.

23/01/2018 15:52 SAST | Updated 24/01/2018 14:56 SAST
Gulshan Khan/ AFP/ Getty Images
Pupils' parents watch protests against Hoërskool Overvaal in Vereeniging on January 19, 2018.

COMMENT

The scenes that we woke up to on the first day of the 2018 school year, outside Hoërskool Overvaal, were an indication that the 1994 rainbow Kool-aid was indeed losing its taste.

The scenes outside that school were of entrenched racial discord and divisions.

We saw parents and EFF members on one side protesting against the school's language policy and the recent high court victory that prevented 55 pupils being admitted to the school, and on the other side were Hoërskool Overvaal parents there to protest against the protesters.

Naturally violence and chaos ensued in that highly charged environment.

AFP/Getty Images
A member of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) faces policemen as she takes part in a demonstration against the language and admission policies at Ho?erskool Overvaal school on January 22, 2018 in Vereeniging, south of Johannesburg. / AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN (Photo credit should read GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The situation reminded me of the AWB invasion of Mmabatho on the eve of the 1994 democratic elections, which is documented in a Youtube video called "The Whites Last Stand".

This was a desperate attempt by some white Afrikaners to save a dying apartheid system and swim against a tide that brought with it democracy. That ill-fated invasion had a calamitous and fatal end.

The scenes outside the school conjured up these images in my mind, as I saw white Afrikaners fighting to maintain Afrikaans as a language of exclusive tuition in this one school. Everywhere else, including in institutions of higher learning, a progressive tide of equity is sweeping away Afrikaans as a barrier to access to education.

This last stand – to keep Afrikaans as a language that gives access to a minority but excludes the majority – is a futile endeavour in a constitutional democracy.

AFP/Getty Images
Pupils' parents and other members of the surrounding community stand behind a police line, in support of a protest against admission and language policies, outside the Horskool Overvaal school on January 19, 2018 in Vereeniging, South Africa. / AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN (Photo credit should read GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The Prinsloo judgment

Judge Prinsloo's judgement was in my view unfortunate and myopic.

The judge narrowly concerned himself with the conduct of the department and its officials when placing 55 children at that school. Sipho Mabena wrote an article reporting on Judge Prinsloo's "five most scathing quotes", and all five were concerned with the behaviour of the department's officials. But zero consideration seems to have been given to the just need to make education accessible to all, and the need to negate the harmful effects of Afrikaans being used as a barrier to access education in this country, as was the case here.

The fact that the HOD sneaked in affidavits without declaring them to the court is an important consideration for ensuring conformity with the uniform rules of court, but should hardly be a central issue when dispensing justice. The judge's decision to have those 55 pupils barred from that school and denied an education, on the basis of Afrikaans as a barrier, will not withstand the jurisprudential scrutiny of the progressive justices of the Constitutional Court.

"Afrikaans only" in a democratic South Africa is for all intents and purposes intended to mean "whites only".

Afrikaans under attack

There are sentiments that Afrikaans is an official language that should and indeed does enjoy constitutional protections, equal in status and measure as any of the other 11 official languages in South Africa.

It's further argued that the language gives identity and a sense of pride to many South Africans, not just white South Africans – but also coloured, Indian and some sections of the black community as well. You could carry this characterisation to its natural conclusion that Afrikaans is a young, homegrown rainbow language spoken by South Africans from all walks of life.

This Afrikaans romanticism is, however, quickly betrayed by its historic and continued use as a tool to exclude the majority and to privilege a minority, especially in education of late.

The fact that in 2018, a well-resourced school such as Hoërskool Overvaal is made available to Afrikaans speakers only is diabolical. The fact that in 2017 at the University of Pretoria, AfriForum invested millions of rands to open an exclusively Afrikaans residence called De Goede Hope [uses] Afrikaans to segregate students and create an enclave for a minority.

Afrikaans romanticism is but a facade for racist right-wing white supremacists with intentions to segregate, who are now substituting language for race.

Juliet, Shakespeare's protagonist, muses, "What is in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet." So whether they're called "whites-only public benches", "Europeans-only public bathrooms" or "Afrikaans-only schools", the cumulative effects are the same: exclusion, segregation and unearned privilege.

"Afrikaans only" in a democratic South Africa is for all intents and purposes intended to mean "whites only".

Afrikaners need to do serious soul-searching and find inside themselves a definition of the Afrikaner-self that is not anchored in privilege, exclusionary traditions or exploitative moral values.

Conclusion

It would be sociopolitical naivety not to view the defiance of Hoërskool Overvaal in the context of the Constitutional Court judgment against the University of Free State's language policy, effectively removing Afrikaans as a language of tuition in that institution.

The litigation by the school to maintain its status as an exclusively Afrikaans school can reasonably be said to be a reactionary resistance by certain elements who labour under the impression that the way of life of the Afrikaner is under attack.

This self-created delusion of an imaginary attack on Afrikaans and the Afrikaner way of life is caused by an irrational conceptualisation of the Afrikaner way of life as pivoting around colonial axioms of exclusivity, segregation, supremacy, racial purity and other colonial constructs that make Afrikaans, especially in South Africa, the language which one uses to transact in social and economic privileges.

Afrikaners need to do serious soul searching and find inside themselves a definition of the Afrikaner-self that is not anchored in privilege, exclusionary traditions or exploitative moral values.

If to you, being an Afrikaner means having certain spaces exclusively reserved for you, for no justifiable equitable purposes, then you will always feel attacked by any progress made towards equity and equality.

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