South Africa: Mother's tongue lashes top school

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Jul 28 13:54:08 UTC 2008

Mother's tongue lashes top school

By Nomfundo Mcetywa

Parents who sent their children to former model C schools did so not
because they wanted their children to be fluent in the "Queen's
language" at the expense of their own but because the quality of
education at African schools still remained poor. This was the
argument put forward in the Durban Equality court this week by the
legal team representing Ntombenhle Nkosi, the chief executive of the
Pan South African Language Board, who brought an application accusing
her son's former school, Durban High School, of discriminating against
him by teaching "substandard Zulu". The case is of national importance
and is likely to have ramifications for former model C schools as to
how they implement the national education policy on languages. The
ruling could force them to offer English and Zulu as first languages.


But it also boils down to money. The school told the court that such a
policy meant money had to be found out of its own funds to employ
extra Zulu teachers. Nkosi told the court, "Our children are being
taught what we call kitchen Zulu. These (indigenous) languages are
still subservient to English and Afrikaans." Nkosi's son had received
low marks in Afrikaans, achieving as little as 4 percent and 17
percent on his year-end report card. Nkosi said her son could have
been spared this humiliation had he had the option of taking Zulu at a
higher level instead of Afrikaans. At the time Nkosi's son was still a
pupil at DHS, in Grades 8 and 9, pupils had to study English as a
first language, Afrikaans as a second language and Zulu as a third

After Nkosi laid a complaint with the school, DHS reviewed its
language policy and now offers both Afrikaans and Zulu as second
languages in those grades. In Grades 10 to 12, all pupils study
English as a first language and have an option between Afrikaans and
Zulu as a second language. Nkosi is still pushing for the school to
offer Zulu as a first language subject to pupils wanting to study it.
But the school's headmaster, David Magner, said this would be
impossible to implement as he had huge staffing constraints and a low
budget. Ironically, the court also heard that Nkosi owed the school
money for school fees. Magner said offering Zulu as a first language
would lead to segregation between black and white pupils.


"The difficulty of the language would see Zulu speakers choosing their
own language while non-Zulu speakers choose Afrikaans. We want to keep
our classes mixed," said Magner.

Magner said parents who wanted their children to be taught Zulu in the
first language had the option of taking their children to schools that
offered this, as DHS was an English-medium school.

This incurred the wrath of Advocate Siphokazi Poswa-Lerotholi,
representing Nkosi, who said parents took their children to DHS as it
was renowned for its high quality of education as opposed to township

Poswa-Lerotholi said, however, that these children should not be
discriminated against but given a chance to learn Zulu at a higher
level so they could pursue the subject in tertiary institutions.

Under cross-examination, Magner agreed that, based on his assessment
of "two or three schools in Umlazi", he would not recommend children
be sent to such schools.

However, he maintained that the level of Zulu taught at DHS was
adequate for pupils to pursue the language at a higher level.

He said many former pupils from the schools were succeeding in the
fields of drama, literature and media studies where they required

Asked if the school promoted multilinguism and cultural diversity as
it advertised, Magner said the school had improved its language policy
since it first admitted students of colour in 1990, and that its
language policy was in line with national education department policy.

He said they now had three teachers teaching Zulu, of which two were
paid for by the school.

Magistrate John Sanders has given the parties until August 22 to file
their written arguments and would pass judgment about five weeks after

This article was originally published on page 11 of The Sunday Tribune
on July 27, 2008

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