THE BLOG
24/01/2018 15:07 SAST | Updated 24/01/2018 15:18 SAST

The ANC Has Failed To Decolonise Our Colonial Education System

Afrikaans remains a colonial vestige in certain schools and institutions of higher learning.

Mujahid Safodien/ AFP/ Getty Images

Sometimes the ANC, which has been governing the country since 1994, acts like a civil society organisation. A quintessence in this regard is its protest outside Höerskool Overvaal in Vereeniging over a language policy.

AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of the South African ruling party African National Congress (ANC) demonstrate against the language and admission policies outside the Höerskool Overvaal school on January 19, 2018 in Vereeniging, South Africa.

The court has found that the school, which uses Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, does not have the capacity to accommodate 55 English-speaking pupils.

As a governing party, the ANC should develop a universal language policy to address institutional racism in our schools and institutions of higher learning in order to cultivate a new culture of multiracialism. As Kenyan academic Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o says: "The choice of language and the use to which language is put is central to a people's definition of themselves in relation to their natural and social environment, indeed in relation to the entire universe."

In cultivating a particular culture, as Wa Thiong'o points out, language serves "as an image-forming agent in the mind of a child".

To be fair to the ANC, addressing institutional racism is a collective responsibility, although it carries more responsibility as the governing party. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which started the protest, has also failed to develop a language policy to address institutional racism in our schools and institutions of higher education.

Any party in Parliament can develop a piece of legislation. Not long ago, the national assembly (NA) passed the Labour Laws Amendment Bill, proposed and developed by Cheryllyn Dudley, who is an African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP. The historic bill seeks to provide for parental leave, adoption leave, and commissioning parental leave.

The EFF should know that anarchism is not a sustainable means to address racism in all its forms. Concurrently, it should come up with legislative measures to address racism.

In a country with eleven official languages, English should be a monolingual medium of instruction.

Afrikaans remains a colonial vestige in certain schools and institutions of higher learning. Learning for non-Afrikaans-speaking pupils at these institutions, according to Wa Thiong'o, becomes just "a cerebral activity and not an emotionally felt experience".

In essence, the ANC has failed to decolonise our colonial system of education. In contrast to students' demand for decolonised higher education, decolonisation should start at a primary-school level with an inclusionary language policy, a phenomenon known as "catching them young".

AFP/Getty Images
Members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) dance as they demonstrate outside Höerskool Overvaal school against the school's language and admission policies, on January 22, 2018 in Vereeniging, south of Johannesburg.

In South Africa, it should start with the abolition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in our schools and other institutions of higher learning. Afrikaans should assume the same status as other indigenous languages. In a country with eleven official languages, English should be a monolingual medium of instruction.

The language policy at Höerskool Overvaal also brings to light the lack of confidence in our township schools by parents of the 55 English-speaking pupils. In search of the best education, some black parents take their children to white schools. Others do so with an impolitic belief that English is a measure of intelligence.

More than anything else, the protest outside Höerskool Overvaal and other racially divisive narratives, such as farm murders, bring to light a leadership vacuum – that is, an absence of a national unifier in the mould of Nelson Mandela. Neither President Jacob Zuma nor his ANC successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, is that leader – not by a long shot.

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane has what it takes to play the role of a national unifier -- more so, given that he leads a racially diverse party. However, he seems not to read the need to occupy the leadership vacuum.

Molifi Tshabalala is an independent political analyst