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Teaching Mandarin at school ‘will colonise SA anew’ – Sadtu

The introduction of Mandarin to South Africa’s public school curriculum would be tantamount to a new form of colonisation, which is why the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) will reject it.

This is according to Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke. “We’ll oppose the teaching of Mandarin in our schools with everything that we have,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

“As Sadtu we see it as colonisation. As much as during colonisation some people were complicit in selling our souls, that’s what’s happening [again now],” he said.

“We’re going to make sure that we’ve got serious campaigns against this particular colonisation. We see it as the worst form of imperialism that is going to happen in Africa.”

The department of basic education announced last month that it has approved the teaching of the Chinese language in public schools. Pupils in grades four to 12 will have the option of learning Mandarin as an additional language from January 2016.

Strengthening trade ties
The department also approved German, Serbian, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu as additional optional languages.

Angie Motshekga’s department announced plans to teach Mandarin in local schools last year, following the signing of bilateral agreements between South Africa and China. In addition to strengthening business ties, the countries agreed to co-operate on education matters.

At the time Motshekga’s office said: “As [China is] South Africa’s biggest trading partner, it is important for our children to become proficient in the Confucius language and develop a good understanding of Chinese culture.”

Sadtu believes the move has nothing to do with economic relations, but is instead an attempt to colonise South Africa. “China and Australia, with all the minerals in Australia, have … stronger ties. Why is there no Mandarin in Australia? You have Malaysia that has economic ties with China; there’s no Mandarin there,” said Maluleke.

“It’s simply colonisation. France is doing business with Germany. But Germany believes in their own German and France in French, and their economic ties are strong.”

‘Make African languages compulsory’
Maluleke questioned whether China will also introduce South African languages in its schools. “There’s no Chinese person who’s going to be taught isiZulu or isi­Xhosa or Sepedi – none. We’re not going to teach a Frenchman isiXhosa. They speak their own languages.

“There’s no country that says we’re now going to subordinate our languages to another country’s language. They believe in ownership and citizenship. Why is it that it’s only Africa that finds it simple to talk about economic ties? You can go to a small country in Europe where they speak their languages; they have interpreters everywhere. It’s only in Africa where you can have a situation where we’re not talking about [learning] Swahili, isiZulu or any African language, but Mandarin.”

It is also surprising that the department is pushing to introduce a foreign language when it is not clear if local vernacular languages are now compulsory in all schools, Maluleke said.

“You cannot have a situation where only in 2012 there was a resolution by the ruling party to say African languages must be taught [in all public schools]. Now even before any single school can prove and give us results of how much they have done, then we’re told there will be Mandarin.”

Sadtu-aligned teachers won’t teach Mandarin, he vowed, and “just don’t even want to hear about it until such time that we have invested in [indigenous languages] to the same level as Afrikaans and English.

“The English speakers invested in their language. The Afrikaans speakers built their own universities to ensure that Afrikaans survives,” Maluleke said.

“They had Rand Afrikaans University, Potchefstroom and Stellenbosch universities. Those were built in order to ensure that Afrikaans is also treated as an equal to English because English was the only language at the time.

“So why is it that we would invest more resources, more time of our teachers and more time for our children to learn another foreign language and not an African language?”

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Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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