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Open letter by the Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations (FAK) on mother tongue education for all South Africans to president Thabo Mbeki 2005-05-12
10 May 2005

President T Mbeki
The Presidency
Union Buildings

Dear President Mbeki,

Like you, the Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations (FAK) is committed with heart and soul to throwing off Africa’s colonial chains – after all Afrikaners were one of the first indigenous groups in Africa to engage in an anti-colonial liberation struggle.

One of the keys to real freedom is mother tongue education within a non-racial, democratic environment. Afrikaners’ history also proves this, for it was on the development of our mother tongue that first political and later economic freedom followed for Afrikaners. This is why the FAK supports the youngest report of the United Nations Development Program, which points out that with the necessary political will Africa’s 15 largest languages can be developed, which would benefit 85% of Africa’s people immediately. The FAK also agrees with the report when it finds that the negligence of Africa’s indigenous languages over the past 50 years is one of the most important reasons why Africa is still burdened by the colonial heritage of poverty, violence and a lack of selfrespect.

Yourself and many spokespersons of government have on more than one occasion made commitments to the development of our indigenous languages, but unfortunately not much of this is to be seen in practice. Education is a good example of this. In spite of the National Department of Education’s commitment to mother tongue education for all, the department only supplies learning materials in Afrikaans and English higher than grade 3. Consequently it is only mother tongue speakers of Afrikaans and English that truly – like under apartheid – taste the fruits of mother tongue education, while the majority of South Africa’s children is effectively taught in their second and third language after grade 3.

As far as Afrikaans schools are concerned, up to 50% of these schools have disappeared since 1994, especially due to the pressure to anglicise in the name of access. Here the greatest error is made, namely to equate access with education in English. What happens in fact, is that the state is busy anglicising the national education system, and it is this which dispossesses the majority of South Africa’s children from the right to quality education. Afrikaans schools that come from a proud anti-colonial tradition of more than 150 years, and which are resisting the pressure to anglicise, are then portrayed as obstacles to transformation and access, although less than 3% of state schools in South Africa are Afrikaans.

Two current examples of this are Laerskool Mikro in the Western Cape and Hoërskool Kalahari in Kuruman. Although both of these schools have significant numbers of students that are not white, they are currently locked in court cases to ensure mother tongue education for their historical feeding communities. There are strong indications that the institution of parallel-medium education at these schools could anglicise them within a few years, thus ensuring that neither the present Afrikaans learners, nor their counterparts of other languages of whom nearly none have English as mother tongue, will enjoy quality education.

The FAK is currently coordinating a national education action for Afrikaans, and more than 20 organizations from civil society are involved in this. As the result of extensive consultations with Afrikaans civil society the FAK hereby calls on you to intervene in order to prevent unnecessary legal actions, for example Laerskool Mikro and Hoërskool Kalahari and to resolve the issue by means of negotiations with the national education action for Afrikaans. The FAK also calls on you to immediately convert the National Department of Education’s policy of mother tongue education for all into practice. In the case of Afrikaans schools the FAK asks you to ensure that a flexible national policy is developed to ensure the future existence of Afrikaans schools. Experience has taught that such a policy often implies Afrikaans single-medium instruction, but sometimes parallel-medium instruction may also be the solution.

The FAK would like to see that all South African children may share in the privilege of mother tongue education, but the FAK also points out to you that we can’t stand by and watch how Afrikaans children are recolonised in their own country through a renewed policy of the anglicisation of the education system. This is what is in fact happening, and it is already a cause for mounting dissatisfaction with the state in the Afrikaans world. This is why the FAK also calls on you to ensure that the right to access to quality education and the right to mother tongue education are no longer wrongly played off against one another.


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