By Panyaza Lesufi
One of the basic tenets of racism is the notion that an individual is meaningless and that membership in a collective, particularly the race, culture and language, are the source of identity and value. To the racist, the individual's moral and intellectual character is the product, not of his own choices, but of the genes he or she shares with all others of his race, language and culture.
This philosophy of racial division, cultural and language individualism, remain entrenched in our education system. That is why Hoërskool Overvaal’s legal victory in keeping out 55 Grade 8 English learners from the Afrikaans school in Vereeniging was a major setback for transformation and the struggle for a non-racial society and should be repudiated.
Believe me, I am the first to admit that there has been a huge transformation in schools since the dawn of democracy. Gone are those monochrome school classes, in are multi-coloured, multi-ethnic schools that reflect the changed composition of our society.
Of course, many schools reflect their catchment areas and their composition can be determined by patterns of settlement and housing policies over which schools have no control.
The Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) believes that in order to promote and encourage a true multicultural-diverse education, the public education system must advocate: an authentic multilingual curriculum with competent teachers and administrators committed; an ethnic self-identification process that goes beyond the use of appropriate ethnic labels, but one that explores intrinsic idiosyncrasies of a non-racial society and a genuine multicultural education that promotes ethnic constancy.
What our Rainbow Nation urgently needs is a ruling that recognises a language policy for what it is: a malignant policy that harms everyone is the very essence of racism. It is a pity that unlike the policy of racial integration, some language policies propagate all the evils inherent in racism.
The advocates of language policies believe that admitting other language groups creates a diversity of viewpoints in schools, the major reason why racial division remains entrenched in our society.
The value of racially integrated schools lies entirely in the individualism it implies. It implies that the learners were chosen objectively, with skin colour, language or culture ignored in favour of the standard of individual merit.
But that is not what diversity advocates of language policies want. They sneer at the principle of colour-blindness. They want admissions to some schools to be made exactly as the vilest of racists make them: by bloodline. They insist that whatever is a result of your own choices -- your ideas, your character, your accomplishments -- is to be dismissed, while that which is outside one’s control -- the accident of skin colour -- is to define your life.
It is time for our society to identify language policies as nothing more than crude forms of racism.
Racism is pernicious, a behaviour which some may like to dress up as language policy but is, in fact, too low to be accorded that degree of respectability.
Believe me, the job market and the educational field have influenced and altered societal trends. It is not a secret that professionals capable of mastering two or three languages, have an edge in the job market. Paradoxically, our School Governing Bodies have been sending mixed messages through language policies.
On one hand, multilingualism is seen as an asset for educators and business people. On the other hand second-language education has been systematically suppressed by some SGBs in favour of monolingual education.
So, in the light of recent Hoërskool Overvaal’s ruling, it seems appropriate to ask what our schools can do to ensure a more stable, inclusive, diverse society. How can our schools ensure a more stable, a diverse society, an inclusive ethos and robust anti-racism policies?
Our schools need an inclusive ethos and practice in both their formal programmes, a real inclusive practice as part of the school's culture in all activities such as informal and formal programmes, including sports games, clubs and other extracurricular activities.