Address by Mr UDM Chief Whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, MP in the National Assembly
Madame Speaker and Honourable Members,
The racial strife the #AfrikaansMustFall campaign has caused and other critical issues raised by the #FeesMustFall Movement should rouse us from our deep Rainbow Nation slumber!
It is clear that the majority citizens clench pent up frustrations about an economic system that marginalises them and their languages more than two decades since we attained freedom.
Kenyan Author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o once shared his insight into the role of language in the historical consciousness and development of nations with these words, and I quote:
“It is this aspect of language, as a collective memory-bank of a given people, which has made nations and peoples to take up arms to prevent total annihilation or assimilation of their languages, because it is tantamount to annihilating that people’s collective memory-bank of past achievements and failures which form the basis of their common identity. It is like uprooting that community from history.” End quote.
The ongoing racial conflict at our universities over the use of languages can, to some extent, be viewed in this context. It is an attempt by each party to, whether rightly or wrongly, act in manner that seeks to protect and ward off an affront to its “common identity”.
With our liberal Constitution, which protects all our rights, this needs not be so.
It is the Constitutional right of Afrikaans students to be taught in Afrikaans – and we must respect that! Similarly, it is the Constitutional right of indigenous language speakers to be taught in the language of their choice – and that too must be respected! And no one should foist Afrikaans on our people!
The nub of the problem, however, is that, two years later, we have failed to elevate the status and the use of languages of diminished use, in line with Section 6 (2) of the Constitution.
We have to develop our languages into academic languages that grant their speakers equal access to power and influence.
We reject racism with the contempt it deserves.
As we do so, we should remember that many students face discrimination at our tertiary institutions on a daily basis. They also have to put up with an alienating institutional culture that makes it difficult for them to acclimatise and to compete with their white counterparts.
We have to compel our institutions to build an inclusive institutional culture that integrates students from diverse backgrounds in a manner that follows broad principles of representativity, receptivity and fairness.
However, more broadly, the unrest at our universities is a microcosm of South Africa’s larger socio-economic problems, such as the slow pace of economic transformation, high levels of poverty and inequality among the majority citizens, which require urgent attention.
We therefore cannot remain impassive in the face of their anguished cries for help!
We have to roll-up our sleeves and get involved. But before we do so, our students have to commit to a disciplined, structured and nonviolent struggle that forwards their cause.
History warns us against the disastrous consequences of allowing emotions to overwhelm our ability to reason.
Fellow South Africans,
Whatever our differences, we are all stitched together by our shared history and common destiny.
We are therefore all duty-bound to help build a South Africa in which we all look forward to the sunrise of our tomorrow.
I thank you.