South Africa: Public School No Place for Afrikaans-Only Policy
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Sat Jan 26 15:36:06 UTC 2008
Public School No Place for Afrikaans-Only Policy
Business Day (Johannesburg)
25 January 2008
Posted to the web 25 January 2008
By Sue Blaine
AFRIKAANS parents are going to have to establish private schools if
they want their children to learn in an Afrikaans-only environment.
What makes this clear is the dispute between the Mpumalanga education
department and the Ermelo High School governing body, which has
objected to the Afrikaans-medium school being forced to admit about
100 black Grade 8 pupils who want to be taught in English. Like the
Afrikaans-speaking parents whose children attend the school, many (but
by no means all) Afrikaners feel strongly that their children should
be taught in an Afrikaans-only school.
There is nothing wrong with this but no community can make this demand
of the education department when there are children who need places at
a public school and SA allows private education. South African society
is, slowly, becoming more racially integrated and -- sadly for
Afrikaans, a language I love -- many black parents want their children
to learn, and be taught, in English. They have that right. For myriad
reasons, some schools in SA have lost pupils and so have the capacity
to take on more. If there are children in the area who do not have a
school to go to, a public school that has extra pupil capacity cannot,
ethically, try to keep them out.
In the case of Ermelo High School, when the problem first reared its
head in February last year the school had capacity for 1200 pupils,
and had 589 enrolled . The other five ("black") schools in the circuit
had capacity for 3075 and had enrolled 3860. Ermelo High School argued
it was an Afrikaans-medium school, had the legal right to set its own
language policy and that there were very few Afrikaans-medium schools
left in Mpumalanga, or in SA. This is so, and the number of
Afrikaans-medium schools is falling, but for a public school to refuse
to admit children because of its language policy, even though the law
gives school governing bodies the right to set that policy, is simply
not morally correct. There is much more to the Ermelo High School
argument than this , but setting aside whatever else has gone into the
fight, public schools have no business excluding those who have no
other place to go.
Public schools belong to all South Africans, no matter what language
they speak, and if there is no other school in the area -- something
which, in the Ermelo High School case, has been confirmed by a full
high court bench -- then the school must change its language policy.
In the same way, Afrikaans-speaking children would need to be
accommodated by an English-speaking school if those kids had no other
place to go. I can understand that this is hard to swallow, and I
understand that parents want their children to grow up in a particular
environment that they have chosen for them. That is any parent's
right, but changing a public school's language policy to accommodate
children who do not have a school to go to does not remove parents'
right to choose.
Some have argued that the government is trying to "kill" Afrikaans. I
am not convinced of this. I am pretty sure that in some areas of Free
State there are children whose home language is Sotho or another
African language, but who would be perfectly happy to attend an
Afrikaans-medium school and learn in Afrikaans because that is the
"white" language they and their families know best. Different
communities have long voted with their feet and established private
schools to suit their particular needs: Johannesburg's Greek community
has Saheti , the Jewish community has its own schools and there is a
smorgasbord of Christian schools.
Most of these schools are expensive, but not all private schools in SA
are -- in July 2005 the Independent Schools Association of SA had 498
schools on its books, just under 20 of which charged less than R3750 a
year, and about 130 of which charged between R8500 and R15500 a year,
which is pretty much the same as a good former Model C school.
Establishing a private school is not easy but it can be done, and if
Afrikaans-speaking parents really want their children to learn in an
Afrikaans-only environment, they should at least investigate this
Blaine is education correspondent.
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