Opinionista Ismail Lagardien 26 September 2019

Lesufi is providing a catalyst for the erasure of the language and culture of five million people

If Andrek "Panyaza" Lesufi knew the origins of Afrikaans, he might think twice. Then again, ‘non-African’ slaves and indentured labourers who were brought to the Cape during the Dutch era — which studies have confirmed as among the seminal originators of Afrikaans — are erased from the ANC’s ideological revolutionary training, and the cadre of Little Octoberists that today populate the ministries and public offices around the country.

When you scan the landscape of ANC leaders in elected or appointed positions, there are very few people who stand out for a combination of intellect, competence, ethical conduct, professionalism and for a set of sensibilities that are commensurate with a vision of democracy, openness, tolerance and trust.

These sound like terrible generalisations, but beyond, say, Zamani Saul, there are very few people who, when they were (or have been) in office, has had any respect for the actual work they do, or for their integrity.

Most notable among the most respectable office bearers have been Lesetja Kganjago, Pravin Gordhan, Naledi Pandor and Tito Mboweni. Those who have now left politics or are retired include people such as Max Sisulu, Frene Ginwala, Trevor Manuel, Lungisa Fuzili, Mcebisi Jonas, Cheryl Carolus and any number of public servants and deployees of the ruling alliance who are exceptional people, but who are now left out in the cold by accident or design.

With respect to those who were in office, and were exceptional leaders, the Nhlanhla Nene saga has shown us that in these Days of Zondo, as South Africa is trying to achieve in a few months what African governments up and down the continent have been wrestling with for nigh on 50 years, anything is possible…

This brief analysis is not about the good politicians and public servants of the past. It is about those currently in office, who have been given a lift by Cyril Ramaphosa’s ersatz sacerdotalism, and now assume that they are all clean and good and wonderful and ethical and professional and skilled and dedicated and “what the country needs”.

The sanctified Andrek Lesufi

The sanctified cadres of the ruling alliance make a lot of noise, claim many easy victories, and benefit from, or manufacture, propaganda windfalls. A name that comes to the fore almost immediately is Andrek Lesufi.

Much like Hlaudi “Baba loves him, he loves him so much” Motsoeneng, Lesufi takes otherwise good ideas then mangles them and wraps them around his warped sense of self-worth and sanctimony.

Mainly through social media, Lesufi has managed to convince loyal ANC members to cover his shortcomings and elevate only the good things he does. Lesufi’s overriding obsession over the past year or so is to strangle the life out of the Afrikaans language and the culture that has grown around it among what the ANC calls “non-Africans” — that new sub-altern called “coloured”. And he does so in slippery and slimy ways, in ways that are riven with inconsistencies and contradictions, forget the self-dramatising and apostasy, so reminiscent of Hlaudi “Baba loves him, he loves him so much” Motsoeneng.

Consider the following. Andrek Lesufi is trying to roll back the overwhelming dominance of compulsory Afrikaans-language instruction, which we fought against in 1976 — when he was about eight years old.

That is not a bad thing. But as with most things Hlaudi “Baba loves him, he loves him so much” Motsoeneng touched, Lesufi has allowed his ethno-nationalism (where “ethno” refers to “pure” African) to influence his approach to everything Afrikaans. Like those folk who start sentences with: “I’m not a racist, but…” He recently suggested that he could not possibly hate Afrikaans, because he has “taken Afrikaans lessons” and one of his children attended an “Afrikaans school”.

Lesufi then rushed to associate people who speak Afrikaans with the worst bigots and injustices in our history. And there certainly have been many.

If he knew the origins of Afrikaans, he might think twice. But we probably should not expect humility, insight and sensitivity, because the “non-African” slaves and indentured labourers who were brought to the Cape during the Dutch era — which studies have confirmed as the seminal originators of Afrikaans — are erased from the ANC’s ideological revolutionary training and the cadre of Little Octoberists that today populate the ministries and public offices around the country. If Lesufi somehow conjures the power to read beyond the Little Octoberists literature, he may find the following extract from one short work:

In 1860 one of the students in a Cape Town madrasah (an Islamic school), a descendant of slaves, copied a prayer in his exercise book. Today the surviving fragments of that book reveals a history that somehow remains hidden to the vast majority of South Africans. The exercises in that book, also called a “koplesboek” (head lesson book), are written in “Cape Malay dialect”, the colloquial language of the time. Apart from the phonetic spelling, any contemporary Afrikaans speaker would recognise it as near-modern Afrikaans.

Andrek and the wilful erasure of language and culture

Lesufi’s latest fight against Afrikaans is because some people want to build a university that teaches in Afrikaans. That is, in principle, not a bad thing. In reality, it is dangerous. Parenthetically, his frothing at the mouth over everything Afrikaans means that this danger is not on Lesufi’s intellectual radar.

What if each of the 23 universities in South Africa decides to teach only in a single language? First, Andrek Lesufi may agree because the Constitution makes room for this. However, there is a very short leap from pride in one’s language to pride in one’s culture and, well, history from Germany to Yugoslavia and Rwanda has shown us how easily language (and identity politics in general) can lead to the worst conflict in history. It is foolish and dangerous to wilfully erase the language and culture of others.

Cultures and languages rise and fall. Sometimes they dominate, sometimes they simply die out. To wilfully destroy one language — which often comes with cultural baggage — is as Chinua Achebe most eloquently explained, a sign of supreme arrogance, disastrous and inevitably followed by conflict. This is what Lesufi is doing. He is denying the estimated five million Afrikaans speakers the right to be taught in their mother tongue. We should probably not be surprised.

In some way Lesufi reflects the ideas, beliefs and values of the ANC and its alliance (that is making public relations declarations about non-racialism, but gradually busing in Africans to areas where “non-Africans” are in the majority), and of the EFF, who are at least more honest. The EFF has come for whites, then they came for Indians and who knows when they will come for “coloured” people. Lesufi is a different type of slime, though.

He speaks conveniently of Afrikaans as “the language of the oppressor”. If he looked beyond the Little Octoberist curriculum, Lesufi might learn that the slogan is crudely populist in the sense that there may be a skosh of truth in it, but its power lies in it being weaponised, so to speak.

With his expression, the statement tends to obscure the experiences, lives and histories of black and non-nationalist Afrikaans speakers. Today an estimated 50% of people whom Lesufi’s ANC has classified as “coloured” (the new type of sub-altern who is “not black enough” and cannot benefit from the post-apartheid democratic dividend), speak Afrikaans.

While “coloured” people too were oppressed during the apartheid period, and today face similar marginalisation and erasure under Lesufi’s ANC, “their contribution to the language of their oppressors is documented and accepted… Afrikaans is at once the language of the conqueror and the language of the oppressed”.

Towards a conclusion

The English language has dominated global communications and finance for the better part of 300 years — although the language started in some form more than 700 years ago. While it is considered to be the language of globalisation — notwithstanding rampant nativism (coupled with xenophobia) around the world — there is every possibility that it will probably continue to dominate. We should probably not be surprised if in, say, 100 years from now, Chinese is the global lingua franca. If Andrek Lesufi actually had the actual insights and sensibilities that his position requires, he may have been a bit smarter.

Imagine, just for a laugh, if all countries that were once colonised by the British forced English out of society (on the basis that it was “the language of the oppressor”) — we could be headed for a world of more intense ethno-linguistic fractionalisation, and possible conflict. The fact is that there is an unimaginable array of highly complex material and cultural trends which will shape the world in the coming years. In this sense, too, the world and all its social relations are infinitely more complex and less easily predictable than before.

South Africa has 11 official languages. This places it comfortably among the countries with high levels of ethno-linguistic fractionalisation. Although we should be cautious because language is not necessarily what binds a people. Most Somalians spoke the same language at the time the country collapsed, when I visited there during the early 1990s.

A personal comment: What I have written here is not about Lesufi’s apparent hatred of white Afrikaans speakers. I do not indulge in the politics of revenge (against “past oppressors”), nor of hatred (because of past oppression). This brief essay was written in response to four beliefs, two of which may seem contradictory. First, people have a right to be taught in the language of their choice. Second, English, as a language of instruction, can serve as a great unifying force. Third, Andrek Lesufi’s politics of revenge and hatred is frightening. Fourth, I do not speak on behalf of conservatives, rightists, far-rightists, ethno-nationalists and racists. DM

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