SPEECH BY F W DE KLERK TO THE KDA CONFERENCE
28 JULY 2005
THE FUTURE OF AFRIKAANS EDUCATION
Ladies and gentlemen
It is a great honour for me to address you tonight.
This is because you will probably have a greater influence on the future of Afrikaans in South Africa than almost any other group of which I can think. The schools that you lead will provide many of the leaders of the next generation of our people. The values that you instil in them and the skills that you impart to them will play a key role in determining the future of our community – and I believe of South Africa.
At the outset, let me say what I mean by the Afrikaans people – since this question has itself been the cause of much introspection and debate. I mean all those who speak Afrikaans as their home language and who participate in the broad Afrikaans culture. I regard it as an inclusive term that is not limited by race or political orientation.
It encompasses three and a half centuries of African history – our moments of greatness and of tragedy; of justice and repression; of struggle and of peace, of glory and of shame. It includes our struggle for freedom in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and also the more recent freedom struggle of coloured Afrikaans-speaking since 1948. It includes the desolation caused by the Anglo-Boer War – and also the desolation caused by forced removals and the destruction of District Six. It encompasses our literature and our poetry, our music and our dance, all the things that we have built and created; all that we would like to remember and all that we would rather forget
I am proud of my Afrikaans identity, of my roots, of my language and my culture. But I am also proud to be a citizen of the new South Africa. I subscribe unreservedly to the values in our new Constitution that provide a foundation for unity with all our fellow South Africans from other communities. I do not believe that these identities are in any way mutually exclusive or contradictory. On the contrary, strong cultural communities will help to build a strong nation – united and rich in its diversity.
I am proud of the decisions that we took fifteen years ago that enabled us to liberate ourselves and all South Africans from the burden of hundreds of years of division and domination. This action, by an Afrikaans-led government, was perhaps one of the noblest moments in our long and troubled history. Dit was die daad waarvan N P van Wyk geskryf het “wat opklink oor die aarde en die jare in hul onmag terge” –
· Whether others wish to acknowledge it or not, we are co-creators of the new South Africa. I am proud of the role that Afrikaans-speaking South Africans have played – and are playing in the democratic transformation of South Africa. I am proud of the constitution that we helped to negotiate and remain deeply committed to defending the rights and values that it enshrines – including the rights to justice, equality, non-discrimination and property.
Among other things, the constitution protects and nurtures our cultural diversity. It makes provision for education in the official language of our choice; for the practising of our cultures and for the utilization of our languages. It proclaims the equality of all our peoples, cultures and languages.
It does not establish new racial hierarchies – as some would now like to suggest.
It does not require us to submerge our identities in a cultural melting pot.
It does not ask us to be ashamed of our history and to turn our backs on our heroes.
However, it is difficult to see how we will be able to promote the vision of cultural toleration and equality, of unity in diversity if all our peoples are not able to educate their children in the culture and language of their choice.
How will we be able to nurture our languages and cultures if we do not have schools where children are taught in their mother tongues? It has been established beyond any doubt that children learn best in their home language and that mother-tongue education provides the best foundation for general education – including the learning of other languages.
It is for this reason that the constitution includes the provision that
“everyone has the right to receive education in the official languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable”
To give effect to this right the state must take into account all reasonable alternatives, including single medium institutions – provided that such institutions are not inconsistent with equity, practicability and “the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices”.
Single medium institutions must accordingly be prepared to provide education to any South African – genuinely and enthusiastically – who is willing to accept the language medium of the institution and must ensure that there is no attempt to exclude any person on the basis or race.
The right to education in the language of one’s choice is not limited to schools – but includes all educational institutions, including universities. Indeed, universities have a special role in promoting cultural diversity. Our ten indigenous languages will find it difficult to survive if there are no universities to champion them, to nurture them and to help them to develop.
How will we be able to give substance to the constitutional vision of cultural diversity if all our universities are dominated increasingly by a single global language?
Why should there not be some universities where the predominant language is Afrikaans – or Zulu, or Tswana – if this is what their communities want – provided that they genuinely open their doors to all South Africans who are prepared to study in the language of the university?
The constitution requires the state to take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of our indigenous languages. There is a clear acceptance in the constitution of the equality of all our official languages – but everywhere the effect of government policy is to promote a single language at the expense of all the others.
Under all these circumstances, I believe that the heads of Afrikaans schools will be confronted by enormous challenges and responsibilities during the coming ten years.
In the first place, you have the traditional challenge of producing young men and women who will be well equipped to succeed in life and to make the best possible contribution to their country and to the economy. There is no substitute for excellence in a globalizing world. At the moment, our education system is failing abysmally. In comparative literacy and numeracy tests we compare badly even with far poorer African countries. Less than 27% of matriculants passed maths at any level in 2002 and less than 22% passed science. If our education system does not produce young men and women who can compete with the best in the world South Africa will fall further and further behind in every sphere of global competition.
Your schools provide a firm foundation for educational excellence. The state should encourage and nurture them in their role of setting an example and of disseminating excellence more broadly throughout society. It should not erode excellence in the name of transformation. The accent should be on fixing what is broken in the education system – and not on breaking those elements that function well.
During the coming years our leading Afrikaans schools will face formidable challenges:
You will soon be required to introduce the new syllabus for grades 10 to 12. It seems to me – as a layman – that the new syllabus contains many positive elements. The challenge will be to ensure that it is implemented effectively.
You will be operating in a rapidly changing educational environment where the powers of governing bodies to appoint teachers and to determine language policy will be under pressure from transformation initiatives.
As institutions of excellence you will be under pressure to share your excellence with less advantaged communities. This is a challenge that you should wholeheartedly welcome.
As Afrikaans language schools you will have the responsibility and challenge of promoting cultural diversity and of nurturing our own very special cultural and linguistic heritage.
As loyal South Africans you will have a duty to inculcate in the next generation the values upon which our new society has been established – including the values of justice, equality, non-racialism and toleration.
In March this year our Foundation was able to facilitate a meeting between a FAK delegation and senior educationists and the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor. I was impressed by the Minister’s businesslike approach and hope that our initiative will succeed in promoting a constructive dialogue on the future of Afrikaans education and on the role that Section 21 schools can play in the broader education community. As always, the challenge will be to find reasonable, balanced and workable solutions.
I sincerely hope that the dialogue that we have started will help to promote an education system that will promote diversity and excellence – and the other values enshrined in the constitution.
In many ways –
· the future of our children,
· the future of our language and culture and
· the future of our country
depend on it – and on the manner in which you – the heads of our leading Afrikaans schools – meet the challenges of the next ten years.