Mandarin, colonialism?

Mugwena Maluleke, secretary general of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU), told the Africa-China Reporting Project in Johannesburg on November 13, that the union stands by its early decision to oppose the prioritisation of Mandarin over local languages. He said the introduction of Mandarin in the curriculum is another form of colonialism.

South Africa has 11 official languages but English dominates politics, business and the media.

“The Chinese will continue to maintain their languages and culture, they are not going to be taught isiZulu, Tsonga and other South African languages,” the SADTU secretary general said.

Maluleke said the government is placing serious importance on Mandarin and it could downplay local languages and thus erode the local culture which is central to the identity of the people. According to him, South Africa is facing language problems caused by apartheid and colonisation and so introducing new language at this time without solving the situation would cause future problems for South Africa.

The Department of Education has made amendments “to the regulations pertaining to the National Curriculum Statement Grades R–12 to provide for the listing of Mandarin as a second additional language” (Government Gazette, 2015: 3).

“We will continue to campaign for education freedom, parents can choose any foreign languages for their children,” Maluleke added.

“…as an organization, we have taken an early decision, that look…for all of the foreign Languages, parents have the right to choose. We did not like this and did not agree upon it, when we saw our Education Department only prioritising the Mandarin Language,” Maluleke said.

Maluleke sees it as re-colonialism for a particular foreign language to be prioritised over local and other foreign languages in South Africa. He said South Africa is also trading with France and other countries and so there was no need to give preference to the Chinese Language alone. He also wondered why the Chinese are introducing their Language in Africa and they are not learning African language.

The Teachers Union’s SG was quick to note that they are not opposing any foreign language in South Africa as being understood in some quarters. Maluleke said: “They are not understanding our point. We are saying that, also introduce Mandarin in Zulu and other local languages. For example, Language is taught based on symbols and students can solve Mathematics in Zulu, once they don’t understand it well in English and other foreign Languages.”.

According to him, the problem is not with China, but individuals he referred to as the “elite” who want to enrich themselves at the expense of South Africa, adding that the policy was introduced ‘without our inputs’.

He said the Chinese have the resources and are going to invest, thus enticing government officials and school administrators; something he considers imperialism.

“While we do not oppose anybody learning foreign languages, we also do not want them to impose any language on our people. They should not use our policy, they should not use our platform to impose a particular language on our people. Let them also prioritise indigenous languages. We should be treated like any other human beings in the world,” he noted.

He said Africa is endowed with natural resources, thus becoming an investment destination for many countries and so this time, “it is about time to maintain our dignity”.

As reported by the Mail & Guardian, SADTU had announced its campaign against the introduction of Mandarin in schools immediately after government revealed the plan in 2014.

Starting from the decision to establish a CI, the Confucius Institute’s By-Laws state that there must be “a demand for learning the Chinese language and culture at the applicant’s location” (Chinese Language Council International, Constitution and By-Laws).

According to The Conversation Africa, British missionaries wanted to convert Africa’s indigenous “heathens” to Christianity; to clone little English people on the continent through the medium of English. Next came the Afrikaners, descended from the Dutch. Their slaves created a “kitchen” language out of Dutch and called it Afrikaans. White Afrikaners appropriated it as their own and it became the language of apartheid.

One of the tipping points of white rule was the 1976 Soweto uprising – a furious, powerful response to the news that Afrikaans would become a compulsory medium of instruction.