The more things change the more they remain the same

Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Nothing speaks more to this dictum than our country’s educational system. Specifically the government’s language policy pertaining to home language or mother tongue.

In terms of the Namibian Constitution, Article 15, children shall from birth have a right to a name, the right to acquire nationality ….and right to be cared for by their parents. Something is missing here, what about the right of the child to be taught in her/or his home language or mother tongue? Perhaps it is taken care of in the Education Act. Indeed this is a subject that has enjoyed the requisite attention of policy-makers by the then Ministry of Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, today’s Ministry of Basic Education, Arts and Culture in its 1991 document, Education and Culture in Namibia: The Way Forward to 1996.

Among the salient points of this policy, “The equality of all national languages regardless of the number of speakers or the level of development of a particular language.” Thirty years or so after, it is anyone’s guess if such equality is a reality in many of the country’s schools. Yours Truly Ideologically says NO emphatically! The reality today is that some languages in Namibia, especially the languages of the formerly, and if you wish still privileged and/or advantaged cultural groups, the former oppressors, are still more equal than the languages of the indigenous Africans. Because the reality in Namibia today is that despite a good number of indigenous African children attending schools in the previously whites only suburbs all over the country, Yours Truly Ideologically is putting his head on the block that most of these schools, ,(it is a fact there are a few who do) do not offer any of the indigenous African languages for the African children attending them to benefit from their home languages. Meaning for these children who would want to have their home languages or mother tongues taught to them, may have to do so at schools far away, in the previously, and still dominantly black townships because none of the schools in the former whites only areas offer such African languages. (Something not right with this sentence below!) Strangely, as matter of the policy of the Ministry of Basic Education, seems most former white schools in previously whites residential areas, do not offer African languages as subjects or do not teach in home languages. This is despite the fact that these former whites only residential areas are today cosmopolitan and habitats to various Namibian language groups. But instead, English, Afrikaans, and perhaps German seem still to reign supreme, not all schools? Thus children enrolling in these schools are literally forced to have these languages of the former oppressors. Because the schools nearby are still bastions of white languages as opposed to indigenous African languages. One cannot but wonder why where there’s good number of indigenous Africans at any school in these suburbs, they cannot be given a choice of any of the indigenous Namibian African languages instead of being forced into Afrikaans or German, with English in this regard having a safe passage as the official language.

To illustrate this if any indigenous African learner and her/his what? lives, for instance in either the suburbs of Dorado Park, Dorado Valley, Hochland Park and Tauben Glen in Windhoek, naturally and for convenience in terms of distance and/or avoiding the inconvenience of transporting learners a longer distance to schools, to enroll the learner at any nearby school like Pioneers Park Primary School, Emma Hoogenhout Primary School and Orban Primary School. But if the choice of the learner and her/his parents is for one of the indigenous African languages be it Oshindonga, Silozi or Khoekhoegowab, what much of a choice is such a learner and her/his parents left than to opt for, usually Afrikaans? Not much actually. Except the inconvenience, and strangely having to transport the learner to Katutura because it is only there where the learner can learn her/his home language or mother tongue. The same goes for learners from Katutura attending schools in the suburbs, who are also left with little choice but have like in the old days of Apartheid Education, have de facto Afrikaans rammed down their throats. What about for the born-frees who are upward mobile and like to stay in the suburbs? They equally may not have much of choice but to subject their children to Afrikaans, as the indigenous African languages should they opt for them, may be out of bounds in the presumed better schools in the suburbs.

Article 19 of the Namibian Constitution provides that “Every person shall be entitled to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain and promotes any culture, language, traditions or religion.” Yes, the Constitution is clear that this must largely be an individual endeavour. But when it comes to the current set as described above where indigenous African languages are not taught, for instance in Windhoek, in schools the previously whites-only suburbs but only in schools in Katutura, than officially and unwittingly, the government is privileging the languages of the former oppressors. This also renders the equality of the languages non-existent as per the policy of the Ministry of Basic Education. Thus it is not yet uhuru in Namibia for the indigenous African languages. And by extension there can be no decolonisation of the African mind. Unless learners are given such a choice and indigenous African languages are taught across board in all schools whether in schools in our Turas, etc., it would be long before we can  see the requisite decolonisation of the African mind and psyche, and as much a radical socio-economic transformation.

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