Lesufi vs Afrikaans

Flip Buys says the Solidarity movement will not be cowed by race agitators

Just the start of Solidarity’s building

Panyaza Lesufi’s ongoing accusations of racism make on think of the Afrikaans author, C. J. Langenhoven’s question put to British imperialists who wanted to displace Afrikaans: “Why is your racism always politics and our politics always racism?” Put in today’s terms, it could be construed as follows: “Why is an Afrikaans language policy always racism and why is political activists’ racism just a language policy?”

Lesufi and Minister Blade Nzimande’s information on Solidarity’s project to build a new campus for our technical college was wrong, and it has since been rectified. Lesufi tried to spark a storm in a Twitter teacup for his own political reasons. He should be improving the poor education in poorly performing Gauteng schools rather than interfering in the business of technical colleges and higher education institutions that have nothing to do with the scope of his business and that he does not have an understanding of. Solidarity will not be prescribed to or be intimidated by Lesufi.

Afrikaans private institutions are constitutional and lawful, as Minister Nzimande indeed confirmed this week. To exercise constitutional rights is not being rightist. Clearly, private institutions must adhere to standards and must not discriminate unfairly. The campus that currently being built is not intended for a proposed new university yet to be registered, but it is for Sol-Tech, our registered technical college that has been in existence for the past 12 years already. Solidarity has already spent about R100 million on Sol-Tech. This amount has been funded mostly by the organisation’s Building Fund, a fund to which thousands of ordinary working people contribute R10 a month as part of their membership fees.

A larger campus has become necessary because the existing premises have become too small and because the college’s training offer will be expanded to include vocational training in addition to the existing trade training that is on offer. The building of a large student residence also forms part of the plans.

Culture and capital

Akademia, our private higher education institution with its 13 training centres countrywide, has been in existence for quite some time and has been registered long ago. For the past eight years it has been providing tertiary education to students aimed at obtaining official degree qualifications. Land is now being acquired to also construct a fully-fledged campus for Akademia at an estimated cost of R1,5 billion.

This step has now become necessary as five experienced deans have been appointed for five new faculties at Akademia, and it is envisaged that as new degrees receive accreditation the number of students will rapidly increase from the current 1 000. The Kanton Property Investment Company has already been established in partnership with business to finance it. The strategy is to form a partnership between “culture and capital” where investors can expect a fair return and the Afrikaans public a cultural dividend in the form of spaces for Afrikaans, such as a university.

Solidarity will not let Afrikaans young people be blamed for things that happened before their birth and will not allow radical politicians to escape accountability for what they are doing today. In 1976 the black youth rightly did not want to have a language of instruction being prescribed to them, and in 2019 the Afrikaans youth will not accept it that they will not be allowed to undertake their studies through mother tongue education.

We believe in world-class education in Afrikaans which is the fundamental motivation for all our training projects. That is why we, together with our partners, are going full steam ahead to put in place an entire training and education pipeline – from preschool right up to university level.

Space for the Afrikaans culture

Developing Afrikaans cultural infrastructure is not a project to isolate Afrikaans-speaking people but is indeed aimed at creating living spaces to sustainably live together in Africa. The purpose of a home is not to isolate yourself from your neighbour but rather to make it possible for you and your neighbour to live together in the same neighbourhood.

There are four key considerations in particular for Solidarity’s Afrikaans education and training strategy, namely language, access, a sense of home and transformation. The mother tongue debate is history – mother tongue education offers the best model for learners and students. Students who have received quality school education in their mother tongue can easily adapt to learning in a second language.

Of course, mother tongue education does not mean that students should not get good exposure to English – it goes without saying that such exposure is essential. These days, access to quality technical training has become very restricted as far as white and Afrikaans-speaking students are concerned because of the race laws that apply. At the same time, access to certain study fields at university is becoming increasingly challenging, despite merit. It is our dream to create those opportunities all Afrikaans young people need to make a success of their life. Hence, offering Afrikaans training is not a project aimed at excluding but at ensuring that Afrikaans students, too, are included in the training offer.

A sense of belonging is equally important. Education should never be reduced to just studying because the broader education and formation of students determine their future. That is why they should feel at home on a campus, being able to enjoy student life to the full in a safe environment. The politicisation of so many training institutions through radical transformation has done a great deal of damage to the academic careers of many students and lecturers because all too often it goes hand in hand with unrest, vandalism and even violence.

That explains why it is necessary to create healthy academic learning environments from where students can be in touch with a broader contact with other political schools of thought and with other cultures as they choose to have. Changing the language policy of universities and colleges is but the beginning of transformation because radical transformation and political projects such as “decolonisation” impair the essence of the university system and of quality education.

Transfer of culture

The most fundamental right any cultural community has is the right to survive as a community and that happens through a transfer of culture that takes place in schools, colleges and at university. Even world-class cosmopolitan universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are anchored in a particular culture. That is why it is imperative to undauntedly oppose the disregard for the human rights and constitutional freedoms of Afrikaners and Afrikaans-speaking people.

In this respect the provisions of the constitutional agreement have already been repeatedly breached through the marginalisation or downscaling of Afrikaans at public universities. Therefore, the substantial constitutional space that exists for private institutions must be utilised as soon as possible. First and foremost, sustainable solutions for quality education are not to be found in government’s promises of free education but in freer education which, thanks to private education, is not subject to suffocating state regulation. Historically, the university system is founded on institutional autonomy and academic freedom. It can be better preserved in a partnership between the community and the private sector rather than government wanting to transform public universities into state institutions.

Attacks on Afrikaans

Political activists such as Panyaza Lesufi not only want to hear less Afrikaans in schools and at university but they want to see fewer Afrikaners there too. He wants to scale Afrikaners down according to their population share. His attacks on Afrikaans apparently stem from racism against white people, historical grievances and prejudice against Afrikaners, ignorance about the value of mother tongue education, his inability to improve black public schools, a project to centralise his power over schools and what children are allowed to learn, and the outdated communist view that monolingualism can transform young people into a “standardised, uniform nation”.

Although poor performing black schools probably bother him, the top performing Afrikaans schools certainly are a source of offence. That is what drives his equalisation project that seeks to bring top schools down to a lower level rather than to lead underachieving schools to excellence. Afrikaans is just an excuse for Lesufi’s political interfering. After all, all training institutions have a language of instruction and it would be racist to single Afrikaans out as scapegoat.

Cultural accord

On 10 October this year the Solidarity Movement will again host a future summit to announce what it would build during the coming decade. Mr Lesufi can tweet as much as he likes. He can go on with his botching; we have barely started with our building. This does not only go for training but also includes plans for achieving more cultural self-sufficiency given the failure of state governance, expanding the neighbourhood watch system, the restoration of municipal services in at least 30 cities and regional towns, the restoration of Afrikaans to a fully functional language, the creation of social structures to help the vulnerable, the expansion of professional networks and many other constructive projects. At the summit consideration will also be given to envisaged talks with government about the constitutional provision for cultural freedom. There is a need for a cultural accord of some kind to end the political undermining of cultural spaces and to affirm government’s respect for the constitutional provision for the rights of language and culture communities.

We have repeatedly offered our assistance to establish colleges for poor black communities if government would provide the tax money for it. We cannot accept responsibility for everything and everybody and deliver services usually provided by the state without the revenue a state gets. After all, government is elected, paid for and funded by tax money to provide services such as training.

We will not resign ourselves to the undemocratic and unconstitutional actions of political activists, and we will not allow that Afrikaans becomes a punching bag to promote political agendas. We are not frightened by politicians like Lesufi who are full of toxic shame about their own failures who now want to attack the successful Afrikaans initiatives that have materialised thanks to the voluntary contributions made by thousands of hard-working people.

The big picture in South Africa is that the country is decaying bit by bit due to the very policies that are being enforced everywhere by the same inept politicians. Those who want to let the Lesufi’s of this world have their way in this are not victims but accomplices. That is why all libertarians must stand together to defend democratic freedoms because by defending someone else’s rights and freedoms you are protecting your own freedom too.

A version of this article first appeared in Rapport newspaper.