FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Let's give Solidarity's 'university' its due

One of the hazards of journalism is that sometimes you have to separate your own feelings and obey the facts. For example, I have to disagree with Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, whom I personally like and defend the trade union Solidarity’s proposed Afrikaans medium university.

Lesufi is wrong to make the motives behind the creation of the Afrikaans university the core of his argument. A project cannot be good (or bad) purely because the intentions are noble (or not).

Every project should be measured on its own merits and potential outcome rather than what inspired it. Human history is littered with corpses of those who died or were murdered pursuing what they or their killers genuinely thought was the best course for humankind.

So, whatever Solidarity’s motives might be, we must move beyond that. A better question would be whether people learning in their first language offers better rewards for the students and by implication, their society. I propose that the answer is a resounding yes.

Instead of shouting down Solidarity, we should ask why is it that 25 years after democracy, one cannot start and complete their education (from pre-school to PhD) in isiXhosa or Sepedi, for example?

WATCH: Lesufi comments on Afrikaans university

It would seem that too many of us assume the hegemony of English as an academic language is as natural as leaves falling on an Autumn day. It is not.

Countries like China did not become one of the two biggest economies because they prioritised learning a language but rather ensured that they would learn useful skills in a language that was native to the speakers. The same applies to how Germany became the biggest economy in Europe.

None of us can deny that English is still the dominant language of international commerce and industry, this is not necessarily going to be always the case.

If a nation produces goods other nations deem necessary, they will find a way of communicating their interests and negotiating a price.

Point is, learning in one’s own language is ultimately better for the student and the society that student belongs to. It does not matter whether that language is Afrikaans, Sesotho or isiNdebele.

It increases the chances of the student grasping the essence of what they are studying to ensure better application of the theory.

Tuesday being national Heritage Day and month, it is also worth pointing out that developing a language to levels where it has technical terms critical for university education, is one way to show appreciation for the inheritance our forebears gave us in the form of the language. It is also a way of showing our own stewardship for the language and culture it carries.

People cannot and should not be stopped from celebrating and doing what they can to preserve their culture just because they have bigots with an exaggerated sense of importance among them.

There will always be a place to criticise narrow nationalism and if the proposed university starts showing signs of being the academic laager, then it must be called out, including by those who care for the language.

Another thing, we can be critical of AfriForum’s reasons but still take useful lessons from them. It is not one or the other. The phrase, giving the devil his due, was created for moments such as these.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.