Reflecting on 16 June 1976
The day after the thirty-first anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, along with many other people living in South Africa, I am struck by the contradictions on language and education that continue to haunt us even today.
In the midst of a large civil service strike, where many students are complaining that they will be irretrivably disadvantaged by the work boycott by the teachers, I am irritated that teachers need to go on strike to be heard. Teacher salaries are so low that over the years I have had university students tell me they have made choices away from teaching as a profession because salaries are a joke. I have written elsewhere about the sad factors that push great teachers out of the profession. Many schools are not equipped with the resources that learners and educators need to make sure that the best learning takes place. Most irritating is the fact that while NATIONAL government allocates certain amounts for a range of uses to the benefit of citizens and other residents, PROVINCIAL governments continue to grossly underspend the allocations and often return large sums of the allocated budget unused. In the poorer provinces, this seems more rife.
Rather than dealing with this problem we are faced with the constant argument that teachers are underqualified to do the job adequately. The simplistic assumption that the solution to this problem is the re-skilling of teachers will benefit nobody except some university Education departments and faculties that enrol higher numbers of students as a result of designing courses to upgrade teacher qualifications.
It is quite sad that although education is a right protected in the Constitution today, other factors are still undermining the successful schooling of so many Black South African children in rural areas and townships.
Language also continues to be fraught terrain for most of us due largely to economic reasons. I would love to be able to do all my banking in isiXhosa, or get served in seSotho, or hear an airline announcement — not just the tokenistic greeting — in isiZulu. Again, the glorious framework provided by national legislation notwithstanding, the only information and documentation that is routinely and regularly available in the eleven official languages is government information.
I am thinking of ways of actively withholding support and money from companies that continue to use only English and Afrikaans in their interfacing with all clients. Sometimes the only language that works for corporate is money.
What a shoddy legacy for the class of 76. What bizzare inaction for those of them alive and working in provincial government, in charge of teacher salaries and with clout in corporate!