Chinese volunteers to teach Mandarin in SA schools

Question: Who exactly will teach Mandarin when it is introduced in South Africa’s public schools as an optional subject next year? Here’s your answer: the Chinese government will bring about 100 of its citizens into the country to teach the language.

Nonhlanhla Nduna-Watson, director for curriculum policy in the basic education department, let the cat out of the bag in a radio interview two weeks ago.

She told the host of SAfm’s [email protected] ­programme, Sakina Kamwendo, that the Chinese embassy in Pretoria would be “responsible for making sure that teachers that would be ­teaching Mandarin come from China”.

She said the Chinese government will shoulder this responsibility because Mandarin was being introduced at the request of their embassy, and the South African government only obliged after an application process was duly followed.

Asked by Kamwendo whether she meant teachers would be brought to South Africa to teach, Nduna-Watson said: “What is going to happen is that they [the Chinese government] will be sending about 100 volunteers but [will] also train our own teachers who are interested in teaching Mandarin.”


About a 100 South African teachers would also travel to China each year for the next five years for training in how to teach Mandarin, Nduna-Watson said.

She appears to have revealed more in that instalment of [email protected] than has been publicly communicated by the department’s communication unit.

Last month, when the Mail & Guardian first reported the department’s decision to introduce Mandarin in January next year, spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga revealed only that the “Chinese government will provide support as far as teachers training is concerned”.

“As I write this a group of teachers are in China where they are receiving training,” Mhlanga said at the time.

He did not respond to questions the M&G sent him this week.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has previously argued it would be beneficial for South African pupils to learn Mandarin because China was the country’s largest trading partner.

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) is opposed to the introduction of Mandarin in the school curriculum, saying it is tantamount to neocolonialism and is being rushed at the expense of local languages.

Xolani Fakude, Sadtu’s head of secretariat, represented the union in the [email protected] discussion. This week he said the union was not swayed by Nduna-Watson’s submission that China will supply teachers.

“Whether they bring a hundred or a thousand teachers from China, [the move] does not encourage the prioritisation of our own indigenous languages,” Fakude told the M&G. “If China wants to send teachers to South Africa they must rather assist us with mathematics and science, not their Mandarin.”

Hu Zhangliang, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, told the M&G China would offer various forms of support to schools, including teachers. “Like what we did for other friendly nations, China is willing to provide active support to South Africa in promoting Mandarin teaching, including helping to solve the problems of lack of textbooks and Mandarin teachers, within our capacity.”

Hu said students in China were learning African languages in various universities.

“They have language courses such as South African isiZulu and isi-Xhosa, Hausa from West Africa and Swahili from East Africa,” he said.

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