Newspaper clipping – The Sunday Tribune – 27 July 2008

Mother’s tongue lashes top school

By Nomfundo Mcetywa

Parents who sent their children to former Model C schools did so not because they wanted their children to be fluent in the “Queen’s language” at the expense of their own but because the quality of education at African schools still remained poor.

This was the argument put forward in the Durban Equality court this week by the legal team representing Ntombenhle Nkosi, the chief executive of the Pan South African Language Board, who brought an application accusing her son’s former school, Durban High School, of discriminating against him by teaching “substandard Zulu.”

The case is of national importance and is likely to have ramifications for former Model C schools as to how they implement the national education policy on languages. The ruling could force them to offer English and Zulu as first languages.

But it also boils down to money. The school told the court that such a policy meant money had to be found out of its own funds to employ extra Zulu teachers.

Nkosi told the court,
“Our children are still being taught what we call kitchen Zulu. These (indigenous) languages are still subservient to English and Afrikaans.”

Nkosi’s son had received low marks in Afrikaans achieving as little as 4 percent and 17 percent on his year-end report card. Nkosi said her son could have been spared this humiliation had he had the option of taking Zulu at a higher level instead of Afrikaans.

At the time Nkosi’s son was still a pupil at DHS, in Grades 8 and 9, pupils had to study English as a first language, Afrikaans as a second language and Zulu as a third language. After Nkosi laid a complaint with the school, DHS reviewed its language policy and now offers both Afrikaans and Zulu as second languages in those grades.

In Grades 10 to 12, all pupils study English as a first language and have an option between Afrikaans and Zulu as a second language.

Nkosi is still pushing for the school to offer Zulu as a first language subject to pupils wanting to study it. But the school’s headmaster, David Magner, said this would be impossible to implement as he had huge staffing constraints and a low budget. Magner said offering Zulu as a first language would lead to segregation between black and white pupils.
“The difficulty of the language would see Zulu speakers choosing their own language while non-Zulu speakers chose Afrikaans. We want to keep our classes mixed,” said Magner.

Magner said parents who wanted their children to be taught Zulu in the first language had the option of taking their children to schools that offered this, as DHS was an English-medium school.

This incurred the wrath of Advocate Siphokazi Poswa-Lerotholi, representing Nkosi, who said parents took their children to DHS as it was renowned for its high quality of education as opposed to township schools. Poswa-Lerotholi said, however, that these children should not be discriminated against but given a chance to learn Zulu at a higher level so they could pursue the subject in tertiary institutions.

Under cross-examination, Magner agreed that, based on his assessment of “two or three schools in Umlazi”, he would not recommend children be sent to such schools.

However, he maintained that the level of Zulu taught at DHS was adequate for pupils to pursue the language at a higher level. He said many former pupils from the school were succeeding in the fields of drama, literature and media studies where they required Zulu.

Asked if the school promoted multilingualism and cultural diversity as it advertised, Magner said the school had improved its language policy since it first admitted students of colour in 1990, and that its language policy was in line with national education department policy. He said they now had three teachers teaching Zulu, of which two were paid for by the school.

Magistrate John Saunders has given the parties until August 22 to file their written arguments and would pass judgment about five weeks after that.