Language Policy in Education in South Africa

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“The existence of different languages was recognised and perversely celebrated to legitimise the policy of “separate development” that formed the cornerstone of apartheid...The use of language policy as an instrument of control, oppression and exploitation was one of the factors that triggered the two great political struggles that defined South Africa in the twentieth century – the struggle of the Afrikaners against British imperialism and the struggle of the black community against white rule”

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, 25 November 2002, HIGHER EDUCATION ACT, 1997 The language policy has been used in the past to control, exploit and separate through the instruction of the governments, both colonial and apartheid, yet through the implementation of the controversial language policies, resistance, struggle and affirmation have occurred all in pursuit of democracy.

The British Colony was formalised in 1814 through the government of Lord Charles Sommerset and when in power, due to the poor records of the ‘old system’ of education and the country in general by the Afrikaners, they deemed them too unworthy, biased and racist to hold official positions in Government. This along with the emancipication of slaves “this practice placed the slave owner in an inferior position to his slave” (Giliomee, H & Mbenga B, 2007 pg 91) created tension between the Afrikaner ‘volk’ and the British. The desire for education in the Afrikaans community was very low. The English found that the Dutch/Afrikaner volk had “neglected education, stifled trade, supported slavery” (Giliomee, H & Mbenga B, 2007 pg 91) Therefore in 1821 a language policy was made that sparked conflict between the Afrikaners and British. Henry Ellis “argued that the proclamation of English as the language of Government had become essential” (Giliomee, H & Mbenga B, 2007 pg 96)

To promote English education, free public schools were set up however there was little enthusiasm and attendance from the Afrikaner Volk as they were a farming community and all that was required or seen as important was an introduction to the Calvinist Doctrine and reading and writing skills. However with English as the official language, the majority of Afrikaner volk were controlled as they were unable to communicate or express their views as they could not speak or understand English. The judicial system was English and the British closed down the iron grip of the Burgher/ Afrikaner community- Burgher Senate, Heemraad and Landrost. The Afrikaans community were humiliated. In “The Super Afrikaners” by Ivor Wilkins and Hans Strydom it states” Under the British Regime, Afrikaans became a despised language. Children were allowed to speak it only three hours a week at school, otherwise they had to carry a placard proclaiming “I am a donkey, I spoke Dutch” ” (Wilkins I, Strydom, H; 1978, page 38) With “English [as] the language of the economy” (Wilkins I, Strydom, H; 1978, page 38) this caused the Afrikaner to feel segregated and with the lack of education drive and the Athenaeum having English religion lessons (causing a fear of an establishment of an English Church and the English way of life becoming an ideology) caused the Afrikaner community to resist and in 1830 “Die Suid Afrikaan” (An Afrikaans newspaper) was published. This caused controversy between the Afrikaners and English colonial powers and finally the Afrikaners were denied self government for two decades.

The Afrikaners also felt their identity being threatened with the expansion of the British colony. This caused them to become an even tighter community with their main aim being the desire to protect the purity of their culture and race and their solution to the impounding English/ British culture was to embark on what is now known as “The Great Trek” between 1830 and 1840. The reasons being lack of land, lack of labour due to the abolishment of slavery, lack of security “There are no rights for Burghers anymore, only for...
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