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AfriForum: BELA Bill denies schools the right to determine its language policy

Sameera Casmod | sameerac@radioislam.co.za
17 April 2024 | 10:26 a.m. SAST
2-minute read

Picture: AfriForum

AfriForum Youth has joined calls for the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill to be tossed out. Passed in October 2023, the bill proposes granting provincial education departments the authority to determine school language policies. AfriForum Youth argues that the bill indirectly challenges Afrikaans as a language of instruction and seeks to promote anglicisation.

AfriForum Youth Spokesperson Louis Boshoff discusses the organisation’s stance on Radio Islam International. Addressing the Department of Education’s argument that school governing bodies often use language policy to perpetuate racial discrimination, Boshoff told Radio Islam that this is not so. Instead, there is a need to build more schools in order to cater to the varying language needs of learners.

Boshoff emphasises that while AfriForum is not proposing the establishment of Afrikaans-only schools, the BELA Bill can potentially affect the autonomy of schools to choose their language policies.

“We are not proposing to not create any dual-medium schools or to simply focus on creating separate schools for separate cultural backgrounds learners. There is absolutely in certain areas room for schools offering both Afrikaans and English and other options where nobody would mind to share school premises with people from other cultures,” Boshoff says.

By granting provincial education departments the authority to determine language policies, there’s a risk that schools offering education in minority languages, such as Afrikaans, could face pressure to change their language medium. AfriForum views this as an indirect assault on Afrikaans.

AfriForum cautions that the bill could result in politically motivated decisions regarding language policies in schools, saying, “Our fears are that if this move is made, then there is room for politically motivated decisions.”

Boshoff notes the existence of both English and Afrikaans medium schools that do not perpetuate racial bias, as well as current legislation that enables individuals to address any instances of discrimination.

The matter brings to light the importance of considering the diverse linguistic and cultural landscape of South Africa and ensuring that decisions are not driven by political agendas but rather by a commitment to inclusivity.

The hegemonic power of English as a lingua franca persists over two centuries after English arrived on South African shores and three decades after declaring independence, even though most of its inhabitants are not native English speakers.

The language of instruction in many schools in South Africa is primarily English and Afrikaans, raising the question: Why are learners not taught in their indigenous languages in South Africa?

Indigenous knowledge systems can be of great benefit in the process of seeking and sharing knowledge, so that the processes of Westernisation, industrialisation, colonisation, capitalisation and de-culturalisation do not completely eradicate the invaluable lessons, cultures, and values of the people of the land.

Language plays an important role in seeking, recording, and sharing information.

The topic of language as a mode of colonial control, as expressed by AfriForum, is not novel. A researcher exemplified this in 2007 with the case of Hawaii, where English was enforced upon Hawaiian as a language of instruction in schools, leading to high attrition rates.

Samuel Gyasi Obeng indicates in a paper published in 2002 that the case is similar in Sub-Saharan African countries, where the imposition of European languages as dominant modes of instruction in institutions during colonisation served as a symbol of colonial control, leading to low school success, illiteracy, low education, and unemployment.

This year marks thirty years of democracy, and yet both English and Dutch influence still linger in South African schools. Perhaps it is time for a complete review of the language of education in South Africa.

Listen to the full interview on Sabaahul Muslim with Moulana Sulaimaan Ravat here.

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