Above all, it recognises as a foundational value the right to human dignity which is inextricably interlinked with the cultural, language and religious identities of citizens. It establishes the equality of all our communities and prohibits unfair discrimination by anyone inter alia on the basis of language, race or culture.
Little remains of this multi-cultural constitutional vision:
- English is, for all practical purposes, the single de facto official language of the country.
- Little or nothing has so far resulted from the Use of Official Languages Act that was adopted in 2012 at the insistence of the courts. The Act requires all government departments and entities to adopt language policies that will give effect to the language requirements in the Constitution – but little or nothing appears to have happened in practice.
- Everywhere, the right to education in the language or languages of one’s choice at public educational institutions is being undermined. The few universities that still provide tuition in Afrikaans at undergraduate level are under enormous pressure to increase their English language offering – despite the fact that at 22 of our 26 universities English is the sole language of tuition.
- Single-medium Afrikaans schools are also under growing pressure to provide classes in English. This is despite the fact that a majority of Afrikaans-speakers are not white and that Afrikaans single-medium schools admit children on a non-racial basis. Parallel-medium education is seldom a viable long-term option. Experience in South Africa and throughout the world shows that whenever a regional language is forced to compete against a world language like English, the regional language is eventually eclipsed and disappears.
- Very little has been done to promote South Africa’s indigenous languages – particularly at university level.
- The government is intent on imposing demographic representivity throughout society with the inevitable result that minorities are disempowered in virtually every facet of their lives. This is particularly so at universities like UCT, Stellenbosch and NWU where minority traditions and culture have been denigrated and where there have been intemperate demands for the accelerated imposition of majority culture and attitudes in the curriculums and ethos of the universities concerned.
- The President – and government ministers – frequently attack the heritage and history of minority communities. President Zuma recently blamed all the problems of the country on the arrival in South Africa of Jan van Riebeeck. Statues of historic leaders from minority communities are daubed with paint and excrement. White South Africans are increasingly referred to as ‘colonialists’ – as though they are alien interlopers in their own country.
The problem is that in matters relating to culture, language and heritage the ANC is guided by the precepts of its National Democratic Revolution – and not by the Constitution. According to the ANC, relationships between South Africa’s communities are part of what it calls ‘the National Question’. In a 2005 policy document, the ANC observed that “the national question around the world, far from being solved, is raising its head in an unimaginably barbaric manner”.
It went on to point out that “the lesson for South Africa is that we dare not ignore the national question in our own country”. It then succinctly summarised its own position: “In the South African context, the national question is not principally about the rights of minorities or ethnically motivated grievances (this statement is not intended to diminish the importance of the rights of minorities). It is, in fact, principally about the liberation of the African people.”
Elsewhere the ANC states that, in considering “the identity of the South African nation in the making” … “what is required is a continuing battle to assert African hegemony in the context of a multi-cultural and non-racial society.” The ANC insists that “the affirmation of our Africanness as a nation has nothing to do with the domination of one culture or language by another – it is recognition of a geographic reality and the awakening of a consciousness which colonialism suppressed”. In fact, hegemony has only one meaning: it means domination – and it is irreconcilable with the notion of unity in diversity and the principles of equality and human dignity upon which our Constitution is founded.
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation