Freedom Front Plus
Freedom Front Plus

Minister Nathi Mthethwa on the Afrikaans Language Monument: A case study on the prevention of nation building

In a recent opinion article by the executive chairperson of Cape Forum, Mr Heindrich Wyngaard, he notes that the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, insisted during a meeting with entities within his Department that the name of the Afrikaans Language Monument in Paarl must be changed.

According to him, doing so is essential for the sake of inclusivity as the name excludes speakers of other languages. Such a step will, however, have the opposite effect.

Before stepping down, the former FF Plus leader, Dr Pieter Mulder, was confronted with a similar view in the relevant parliamentary Portfolio Committee.

Members at the time insisted that the Monument's subsidy must be reduced because of, in their opinion, its lack of inclusivity.

Mulder then took the Committee to the Monument and explained its symbolism to them.

The various pillars of the Monument symbolise the different sources from which Afrikaans originated: European languages, various African languages, including Khoisan, and its Eastern roots. This explanation elicited the remark that it is an "honest monument" and the subsidy was left untouched.

It is important to note that a large part of the Afrikaans language community is well aware of the exceptional nature of their language.

It is an indigenous language that developed in South Africa from diverse sources. Recognition that it is more than just a dialect of Dutch was obtained with great difficulty.

And that is why more than one monument was erected to commemorate the language, the one under discussion is just the most impressive of them all.

Those who are serious about Afrikaans must often subordinate their language interests to the zeal of other language communities.

Consider, for example, the disagreement about the use of Afrikaans in institutions for Higher Education. The only language that benefits is English as an international language of interaction and literacy.

It raises the question of why speakers of other languages, like isiXhosa for instance, or any other language spoken in the Paarl area, do not collect the resources needed to celebrate their language in a similarly visible way.

In a country with many diverse cultures, the authorities usually follow one of two approaches: The first is to force all languages and cultures to merge into one "official" version; and the second is to recognise, as much as possible, and even welcome the diversity.

The first increases the pressure, which ultimately makes the state implode, while the second relieves much of the underlying tension, which later often disappears completely. In South Africa, there are signs of both approaches, but Mthethwa's conduct is an example of the first.

The history of Ethiopia and Kenya shows that civil war can be stopped or prevented by allowing cultural groups to have control of their own language and other cultural artefacts, as opposed to the straitjacket for cultures that was imposed earlier.

In other words: Alleging that a specific language group's celebration of their language is detrimental to others is to unleash the centrifugal forces in the country, instead of the centripetal forces.

In this case, Mthethwa is adding momentum to the pursuit of Cape freedom.

Instead of demonstrating his intolerant attitude, the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture ought to establish councils, which will allow cultural groups to take control of their own heritage sites and monuments.

It may help to defuse the tension currently building in South Africa.




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