Leave Afrikaans alone!
Afrikaans is under pressure in our schools and universities with many parties calling for its scrapping as a primary medium of instruction or wanting to incorporate English as a parallel medium. This piece is not aimed at these people. Surprise! It is aimed at the people and groupings who are trying to use Afrikaans as a weapon to defend and maintain white privilege. You are doing more damage than good to my language, Afrikaans. You are trying your utmost to maintain or promote the association of Afrikaans with racism and white privilege. You do not speak for me. Leave Afrikaans alone!
If you listen closely to the parties complaining about the use of Afrikaans at Universities or those who want Afrikaans schools to be opened to less privileged children, you will realise that the language itself is not their main concern. Their concern is with white privilege, their lack of access and their desire to get a better deal. Afrikaans is used as a convenient scapegoat, largely because of its association with the inequalities of the past, the inequalities that remain and the perception that many Afrikaans supporters in general are also supporters of white privilege and often are racist. This is where people are going wrong and where many Afrikaans advocates are fuelling the flames of the fire.
It has not always been this way and there is no reason why it has to be this way going forward. When the ANC took power in 1994, they went to great pains to acknowledge the importance of Afrikaans and to take steps to protect the rights of the language and to actively nurture it in the New SA. The right to mother tongue (including Afrikaans) education is guaranteed as a human right by our Constitution (where it is reasonably practical). When President Nelson Mandela opened the first democratic parliament in 1994, he quoted Ingrid Jonker’s poem Die Kind, expressed his love for Afrikaans numerous times and reached out to Afrikaans speakers (not least in his support for the Springboks in the 1995 World Cup).
In 2009, the Constitutional Court (Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke) noted that when a learner already enjoys the benefit of being taught in an official language of choice at a particular school the state would bear the duty not to take away or diminish the right “without appropriate justification”.
As recently as 2015, President Jacob Zuma stated that “Afrikaans is as African as the rest of the country’s official languages.” He said that transformation criticism should not be targeted at the Afrikaans language, but rather how it’s used in institutions. Even Julius Malema said in 2015 that Afrikaans should be spoken and protected, but not imposed on people, although he also mentioned that Afrikaans “should be put in its place”.
Afrikaans per se is therefore not the problem, it is the association made with the language that is becoming a problem and can eventually manifest itself in active objection to the language. This is what I fear. I fear that the voices of those open or closeted racists with hidden agendas who vociferously defend the language will drown out the voices of progressive and patriotic Afrikaans speakers who want their language protected, but not at the expense of others. People who realise that the only future for SA is one of transformation, reduced inequality and unity. People who are looking for solutions to the challenges that face our country. People who are willing to sacrifice in order to guarantee a long and prosperous future for themselves and the rest of society in this beautiful country. People like me.
So let me ask the following of Afrikaans advocates, do either of the following: 1) admit that your aggressive defence of Afrikaans is a smokescreen for your desire to protect your way of life, to choose the people you or your kids associate with, to avoid integration and to live in a country that is long gone; or 2) throw your weight behind transforming our society, lifting up the disadvantaged and at the same time protecting Afrikaans.
It is your right to choose the former. It is your right to be prejudiced. It is your right to be scared of people who are different to you. It is your right to fear for the future of SA. It is your right to protect what is yours. It is your right to be critical of government, regardless of their performance. It is your right to be racist. Please, just be honest about it. Do not drag my language, the first language of 13.5% of South Africans (most not Afrikaners) and one of the most widely understood languages in SA (the vast majority non-whites) into this. It is not just yours. Leave Afrikaans alone!
If you choose the latter, there is so much you can do. Because there is such a huge pool of Afrikaans speakers and people that have Afrikaans as a first language; and because there are so many of these people that are previously disadvantaged, let us reach out to them. Let us bring them into Afrikaans schools to benefit from the privilege that Afrikaans children experience. I challenge Afrikaans-based institutions such as Afriforum, Solidariteit and the ATKV; universities with Afrikaans as a medium, including the University of Stellenbosch, the University of Pretoria and the University of the Free State; as well as Afrikaans politicians, business leaders and media personalities to start an aggressive fund raising exercise to provide an unprecedented bursary fund to attract previously disadvantaged learners to Afrikaans schools. Give these poor township kids free schooling, free transport, free uniforms and free learning materials. Give them the opportunity to be educated in the beautiful language of Afrikaans, but only if they choose to.
Let us stop the decline in the number of Afrikaans learners in SA, whilst transforming our Afrikaans schools into the racially and culturally diverse entities we need to build our country going forward. Let us build a strong pipeline of diverse Afrikaans learners that want to continue their university studies in Afrikaans. Let us change the narrative from white Afrikaners wanting to hang on to their privilege to Afrikaans being a unifier that offers opportunities and diversity to anyone, regardless of ethnicity or background.
If we took this approach in the early 1990s when the writing was on the wall; if Afrikaans universities at that stage opened their arms widely to every single Afrikaans speaker, regardless of race or creed; if the Afrikaans community donated large amounts of money to develop Afrikaans in disadvantaged communities, we would not be having this discussion now. Afrikaans would be divorced from its racist past. Our country would be much more united. We would be facing a brighter future.
It is not too late. It is time for all Afrikaners to embrace the new SA. It is time for them to share what is great about their culture. It is time to make friends. It is time to unify. And yes, it is time to sacrifice. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution, but please do not bring a language that you do not own into the equation. If you choose to remain an outsider, please do not drag the rest of us into it. Leave Afrikaans alone!
Do you think that Afrikaans is being used as a pawn by racist Afrikaners and objectors alike? Are you tired of Afrikaans being drawn into the debate? Would you like to see Afrikaans divorced from its racist past? Would you contribute to a mass fund-raising exercise to make Afrikaans more inclusive if it will lead to the continued vibrancy and protection of the language? Or are you bitter, disenchanted, unwilling to compromise? I would love to see your opinion.
In the mean time, keep your talking straight!