Erasure of language where ANC meets EFF, BLF
There’s an old joke we shared many years ago, when I started out as a political activist in what was the black consciousness movement.
I should get to the joke, below.
I have to point out, first, that I abandoned political affiliation in my early 20s, and embraced pacifism and a non-identitarian humanism – without romanticising specific ideologies or even expedient notions of “non-racialism”.
I raise this point in the context of assertions on Afrikaans by Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.
Again, a point of clarity is necessary.
There is no problem with removing names like “Hendrik Verwoerd” from SA institutions.
He was a terribly racist man and set the tone for post-war white consciousness as a notion of superiority over darkskinned people.
And so, I have no problem (none at all), with the renaming of Hoërskool H F Verwoerd in Pretoria to Rietondale Secondary School.
There are at least two points that can be made, though.
Changing the name of an institution is an exercise in branding and marketing.
Sure, any such change can carry symbolic meaning, but to mark it down as the most important thing you have done, or as your mission – as Lesufi has stated – is a most egregious form of self-dramatisation.
Let me get back to the joke I referred to above.
It went something like this: “If you scratch every coloured person deep enough, he is a black consciousness supporter”.
This was the time when “coloured” people were assumed to be part of the old Labour Party of the Reverend Allan Hendrickse.
With my fair skin and green eyes, it was always a topic of discussion that I was in the black consciousness movement (and later the Azanian People’s Organisation) because, you know, I really was black inside.
Today, though, the rise of the EFF and BLF movement, has put a new spin on the old joke.
Put this way, if you scratch any ANC member or leader deep enough, he or she supports the EFF or BLF.
Of course, we may say that between the two of them the EFF and BLF did not break 11% of the vote in the last election.
It is worth bearing in mind that in 1928, the Nazis had a mere 12 seats in the German parliament and by July 1932 they were the largest party with 230 seats.
It may also be said that “non-racialism” is simply a public relations exercise.
In this sense, and at the best, of times, people whom the EFF and BLF would consider as “non-Africans” are to be tolerated, because it is good PR.
And so we get back to Lesufi, who would insist that Afrikaans, as someone’s mother tongue and as a language of instruction, has to be phased out – erased, so to speak.
Okay, he was not that direct, but scratch him deeper, and it is, precisely, about erasure.
While we have a constitutional obligation to protect each of the 11 languages, including Afrikaans, we have to acknowledge at least three things.
First, for better or for worse, people have a great affinity for their mother tongue, whether it is isiXhosa, Bahasa Malaysia, Hindi or Afrikaans.
Second, languages rise and fall, they come and go over time.
But, some people see great value in protecting their mother tongue as an affirmation of their identity.
Third, it is simply dangerous to set out to destroy a language, especially for politically expedient reasons.
Then again, Lesufi’s drive to erasure is probably not surprising.
The politics of revenge, of racial essentialism and of exceptionalism lies very close below the skin of ANC politicians.
Anyone who is in education may agree with the (correct) appeal for students to be taught in their mother tongue.
Apparently, this does not apply to those people whom the EFF, BLF, Lesufi and his colleagues in the ANC still classify as “coloured”.
Early last year, in response to Lesufi’s erasure of Afrikaans in coloured schools, a former teacher, Neil Glynn, said: “Because Afrikaans is mostly thought of as a white language, the government forgets that it is also our language and one of the most spoken languages in this country… I am aware that there is an attack on Afrikaans and no matter what story they spin us, it is what it is.”
Dawn Chummie, from Johannesburg, said: “It is part of our heritage.”
Ella Esau said her daughter was one of 45 children in her Grade 12 class and asked: “I don’t want to lose my mother tongue and I also don’t want my children to lose that part of our history.”
I will leave the final word to the great writer, Chinua Achebe, who said: “I don’t think that anybody can suggest to another person, Please drop your culture; let’s use mine.
“That’s the height of arrogance…”