Ministerial tardiness leaves matric students without novels in African languages

The department of basic education has stated that the implementation of the new grade 12 literature materials on the national catalogue would go ahead "despite there being no materials in specific language levels and languages". (Shutterstock)

The department of basic education has stated that the implementation of the new grade 12 literature materials on the national catalogue would go ahead "despite there being no materials in specific language levels and languages". (Shutterstock)

While English home language speakers will study the 2001 fantasy novel Life of Pi, by Canadian author Yann Martel, for the first time in matric next year, most of their counterparts doing African languages will be saddled with much older novels and plays.

According to an analysis of prescribed literature setbooks, at least 88 of the 174 titles for poetry, drama, novel and short stories for the 11 official languages have not yet been approved by the department of basic education for study.

This means that those affected will be forced to study the existing literature materials available at schools in the different genres.

In a circular dated October 28, the department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, stated that the implementation of the new grade 12 literature materials on the national catalogue would go ahead next year “despite there being no materials in specific language levels and languages”.

Learners have a choice of studying a language either on the home, first additional or second additional language level.

“Where there are new books available, the 2017 NSC [National Senior Certificate] paper will contain questions for the new books only. Where no new books are available, the 2017 NSC paper will contain questions for the existing books,” according to Mweli.

The Mail & Guardian understands that those studying xiTsonga, tshiVenda, seSotho, sePedi and isiNdebele on the second additional language level will be forced to use existing setbooks for poetry, novel, drama and short stories.

In isiZulu of the 16 titles required in the four genres only seven are available while only 10 of the 16 titles required for isiXhosa are available.

Academics and scholars this week slammed the department for failing to approve new titles in African languages especially.

Simon Mogale, an author of three novels in sePedi, including one which was previously used as a prescribed literature setwork for grades 10 and 11 in Limpopo, described the situation as “terrible”.

“There are many new books that have been written in sePedi under my cap as publisher. Right now, I can produce 10 new novels which have been printed and which are suitable for study by matric learners.”

Mogale, a sePedi lecturer at the University of Limpopo who runs publishing house Kobela Publishers, believed that the “obstacles” placed on new publishers to get their books approved by the department was insurmountable.

“Nobody knows how books are selected.
After you have submitted it, you wait for the results. What happens from the time it is submitted to the time the results come out nobody knows.”

“I encourage new, aspiring writers to write. They write and I read the books and they’re okay. I print them but they can’t get into the department of basic education.”

Sindiwe Magona, author of the novel Mother to Mother, which is one of the prescribed setbooks for high school learners, said she was “ashamed and saddened” by the fact that six titles in isiXhosa had not been approved.

“It is not because there is a lack of materials,” said Magona who is involved in a project at the University of the Western Cape aimed at nurturing budding writers.

Magona, who has two novels in isiXhosa that need to be published, believed that more setbooks by African poets, authors and playwrights, should be used at schools. “I am not saying we shouldn’t promote the odd American or English novel but if we don’t promote our own writers, we are not saying much about ourselves, are we?”

“Books and authors really are not valued in this country. If I were a dancer, singer or did kwaito, every home would know my name by now.”

  Magona said that only Rustenburg Girls’ High in Western Cape had enquired from her whether she thought Mother to Motherem> was suitable for study.

“But I have had [Skype] sessions with students from one part of Germany where the book is being studied by those taking a high school diploma. I also get very good feedback from students from the Georgia State University in Atlanta where students are using my book.”

She said those appointed to select books for study at high school level should talk to authors such as herself and others who run workshops for writers. “I am sure the books can’t be that hopeless. A book can always be battered into shape, revived and then reproduced,” she said.

Mpho Monareng, chief executive of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSalb), said it was “rather sad” that African languages were not given value in the education system. “I don’t see them taking these languages very seriously and the excuse that there are no books currently is not true.”

He said PanSalb would be raising the issue of why so many setbooks in African languages had not yet been approved with the department.

“There was huge fanfare when they introduced Mandarin. It was said that it was introduced because it was the language of business. If African languages are not given space to create knowledge then they are going to become obsolete.”

Basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga however said that not all the literature materials received from publishers had met the quality requirements. “The catalogue had gaps. The plan was to close the gaps that were found in the grade 12 literature catalogue and implement in 2017.”

He said a process known as a “Special Call” to close the gaps was undertaken which involved requesting publishers to submit material for evaluation for only those genres where there were no new literature setbooks.

“After evaluating all the material submitted in the ‘Special Call’ there are gaps that still exist. The department will ensure that question papers are set on the old and new material.”

He said the department used national, provincial and district subject specialists as well as retired teachers, non-governmental organisations and higher education institutions to evaluate material submitted by publishers.

“The material was either accepted or rejected on the basis of the set requirements of quality. If the material is accepted, it is then listed in the national catalogue.”

He said the department has implemented a plan to “incrementally” fill the gaps with new materials in all genres. Said Mhlanga: “The existing materials have been used over several years and it is not ideal to continue using these materials instead of new materials where available.”

“The department calls on African writers to come forward with literature to assist the department to find new material for African language genres.”

Some of the local writers whose books have been prescribed for pupils studying English in grades 10-12 include Victor Mtubani ( The African Dustbin), Sol Plaatje (Mhudi), Omphile Molusi (Itsoseng), Zakes Mda (Dark Voices Ring) and Kagiso Lesego Molope (The Mending Season).

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