The article entitled ‘Verengelsing laat inheemse tale kwyn’ [English leads to withering of indigenous languages] (Republikein, 5 July) reported on a talk given by FW De Klerk in Windhoek on the future and maintenance of Afrikaans and the importance of mother-tongue instruction.
De Klerk [the last apartheid South Africa’s President] argued that the lack of mother-tongue teaching is the main reason for the education crisis and that English as medium of instruction is the cause of this. However, this reasoning is simply disingenuous.
English is not the primary source. In fact, the socio-economic factor is by far the most important basis of the education crisis. And, in case I get misunderstood, I should say that I fully support multilingualism and the downgrading of English so that language equality becomes a reality. English as dominant medium of instruction undoubtedly contributes to the education crisis, but this is just one of several secondary factors.
Other factors include the under-payment of teachers, the lack of a reading culture, the absence of libraries and laboratories, etc. Nevertheless, the worsening of the socio-economic conditions of the majority of the people is the chief explanation of the crisis.
I should also state that the association between apartheid and ‘standard’ Afrikaans, as to be expected, is of course still strong. The negative connotations attached to the Afrikaner (tribal) version of Afrikaans would remain for a very long time to come. The only way to overcome this polecat status of the language is to re-standardise it.
Furthermore, this is the democratic option as well since the three varieties of the language should be treated as equals. The other two kinds, i.e. Kaaps and Oranjerivier, should enjoy equal status with the Afrikaner style. Of course, my preference is the Oranjerivier type of Afrikaans - that includes Namibian Afrikaans – which is far more beautiful than ‘standard’ Afrikaans. But, for the sake of democracy, all three forms should be unified.
De Klerk’s boasting about the wide-spread nature of the language is just a cover for Afrikaner chauvinism. In fact, it would be valuable to do research on which variety is really widely spoken.
In my opinion, it is probably the Oranjerivier style. Would De Klerk still be so enthusiastic about Afrikaans after it is re-standardised? Perhaps if De Klerk initiates this process we would take him more seriously.
De Klerk’s version of Afrikaans and multi-culturalism is indeed a way to continue the nightmare of apartheid and privilege in a different disguise. Under the cover of ‘freedom,’ he presented the Verwoerdian approach to questions of language, identity and culture. It seems to me that De Klerk has no genuine remorse for what he represents and in fact is still very self-righteous about apartheid. A democratic approach is called for to resolve the question of Afrikaans.
R van Wyk