South Africa: The ANC and Ideology - IV

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Nov 3 15:27:37 UTC 2008

The ANC and Ideology - IV

In my 'The ANC and Ideology – I' of 9th September I pointed out how
blind and unthinking ideology can completely negate the good
intentions behind the framing of social, political and other systems
of thought. The ANC has shown itself to be particularly adept at this
form of intellectual suicide. Many years after winning the fight with
which it so exclusively identified itself, the ANC still has to make
the transition from a 'liberation' movement to an effective and
consistent party worthy of the role and responsibilities of national
government and regional – even global – leadership in line with the
economic infrastructures inherited from its former enemies.

Through a mix of plain old incompetence and a more sinister campaign
of deliberate 'blind-eye' politics (for example, denial of the link
between HIV and AIDS, denial of the scale and severity of runaway
crime in South Africa, denial of the existence of a crisis in Zimbabwe
and its impact upon South Africa, etc.), the ANC has deluded itself
into believing that it need never change from the simplistic and
authoritarian politics of the fear-inducing slogan and street marches
which it believes fully and completely characterises the outlook and
demeanour of the South African population.

Recent events on the South African political landscape (viz: the
schism developing within the ANC) might be demonstrating to all and
sundry that the ANC may well have been fooling itself for a little
longer than many ordinary South Africans are prepared to accept.
However, this post is not about the splintering of the ANC (perhaps I
shall indulge myself another time), but rather about the ANC's
language policies. Much as it might desire to be otherwise, South
Africa is very similar to the rest of the African continent in that,
for very good historical, geographical and social reasons, it is
hugely fragmented linguistically.

Spearpoint has no clear idea of how many different languages and
dialects there are in South Africa, other than there are a lot. Most
of these are fairly clearly defined geographically with plenty of
overlap. The main exceptions are, of course, English and Afrikaans
which, by and large, extend throughout the entire country (although
there are still areas in South Africa where English is not known
enough to enable ordinary conversation and Afrikaans is the fall-back
– inconvenient for Spearpoint-types who, for one reason or another,
cannot or will not speak what can be a baffling Creole tongue with
apparently randomly variable grammar, syntax, spelling and
pronunciation that oft-times appears to defy any logic known to Man).

No doubt with the initial intention of inspiring feelings of
inclusiveness, the ANC, upon its donning the cloak of power in the
mid-1990's, decreed the policy of recognising fully eleven official
languages (including English and Afrikaans) in South Africa.
However, Spearpoint would contend that the ANC, in adopting and
promoting such a wide range of official languages, has seriously
stepped on its own shoe laces in attempting to convince people that it
was capable of giving everyone what they wanted.

Consider the implications.

An official language is one that has to be accommodated in all legal,
parliamentary and commercial transactions.

In theory, any such language must be available, on demand, in any
official literature, correspondence and dialogue. Translations must be
produced; translators must be schooled, trained and paid; equipment
and resources must be provided.

The cost implications – particularly for our emerging Third World
economy – are staggering and, quite simply, unaffordable.

The entire system is also unwieldy, cumbersome and very time-consuming
in the production of its end result. It is also prone to political

However, these are not the main concerns.

What exercises Spearpoint regarding South Africa's language policy is
that it is doing nothing to prepare and equip ordinary South Africans
for interaction with the rest of the world.

Notwithstanding considerations of national pride and the wishful
thinking of the ANC, the lingua franca of the planet is the English
language. Other important historical languages are French, Spanish and
Portuguese but it is English that is predominant. Even Mandarin,
spoken by a majority of the world's population, is not foisted upon
the world simply because it is too damned difficult to master
sufficiently for even ordinary commercial and political intercourse.
English, by comparison, is simple in its alphabet, grammar and logic
whilst being fully capable of expressing the most intricate and
complicated concepts yet devised by Man.

With this in mind – and from a practical standpoint - what then is the
logic in educating our children in what are effectively local and
parochial languages? School children and university students will
never use, for example, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa or iSotho outside of
their villages and provinces. Commercial and political discourse
beyond those places will never be in anything other than English or,
less and less as time goes by, the other colonial tongues.

Spearpoint is not here advocating that local and indigenous languages
should be allowed to wither and die – quite the contrary, in fact.
Such languages are tremendously important in the identification and
transmission of any number of cultures and perspectives. Let those
languages be taught and studied – but not at the cost of mastery in
the English language.

Keep in mind, also, that every local African (and non-African)
language, once exposed to English, has adopted a host of English words
and expressions as convenient shortcuts – some so much so that some
tongues now resemble more Pidgin languages rather than the linguistics
of their ancestral tongues.

Written and spoken fluency in English is one of the keys to the
treasure box of international knowledge and skills so desperately
needed in the Third World. Our children can never hope to have access
to the myriad of international opportunities if they are unable to use
and understand the written English language or if they are unable to
speak it without some horrendous and caricatured dialect or accent.

The ANC fails its people when it actively works to promote indigenous
languages at the expense of the lingua franca of the world. It denies
ordinary people those tools which would be otherwise available to
enable individuals to better fulfill themselves and it denies the
economy of this emerging Third World country the expertise to venture,
with confidence, into the wider world of education, commerce and
politics. The ANC holds back its supposedly beloved South Africa by
its insistence on what it perceives to be the only politically correct
ideology of encouraging a legion of relatively unknown tongues to seek
equality with the only language that is, to all intents and purposes,

Given the character of the ANC leadership and the manner in which it
understands, exercises and applies power, it is, perhaps, no great
surprise that the ANC has chosen this excessive language policy. There
is little appetite in the ANC for the intellectual empowerment of any
group outside of the ANC elite – people tend to become troublesome and
difficult to gull when they are overly educated and exposed to ideas
and concepts not sanctioned by the ruling politburo; government then
becomes difficult and more open to unwelcome scrutiny by those not
sharing the benefits of being in charge and control of national
resources. To divide, conquer and suppress one's own constituency
requires economic, geographical and intellectual isolation of whatever
groupings may exist within one's own borders – and, if the
pronouncements and actions of the ANC over the past fifteen years or
so are anything to go by, such isolation is the very bedrock of ANC
theory and practice.

Spearpoint. 2nd November 2008
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