Mass participation limited by English as

sole medium
Jerome Mutumba, Lecturer in the Department of English,
Ongwediva College of Education

Southern Africa, like most parts of Africa, is confronted with complex linguistic
problems. There are many languages in Southern Africa that linguists like Pütz
(1995:1) observed that the population of sub-Saharan could be measured against.
Languages are tools for communication and the medium through which thoughts,
values and attitudes are transmitted within and between cultural groups.

During colonialism in Africa, languages were used as tools for perpetuating divisive
ideologies and the spirit of hatred among indigenous Africans (Benjamin Jean in
Fardon & Furniss 1994:47). Divisive ideologies were promoted through colonial
language policies aimed at legitimising the then colonial governments. Language
policies during the colonial era in Southern Africa promoted European languages in
schools and in most social domains of the sub-Saharan communities at the expense of
indigenous local languages. With the advent of political independence, one would
expect language policies aimed at reversing the disastrous colonial language policies
in Southern Africa.

However, most African countries, upon attainment of political independence, opted
for the languages of their former colonisers to be official languages (Matinee 185 in
Pütz 1995:1). The Republics of Zambia and Botswana opted for English, the language
of their former colonisers, and Mozambique and Angola opted for Portuguese. Later
Namibia also joined the anglophone team. Language choice, in terms of what
language had to be accorded official status, was difficult for post-colonial African
governments because of the fear of being accused of ethnic or tribal favouritism for
one individual language among thousands spoken.

With the advent of independence in formerly colonised countries in Africa, most post-
colonial governments attempted to mould so-called ‘contemporary national’ cultures.
cultures: that, supposedly, reflect the pride and true identity of the indigenous people.
As part of the new cultures in developing countries, creation of national identities is
frequently given high priority by the political leadership (Weinstein 1990). During the
process of moulding the nations, political leaders felt obliged to accelerate the pace of
national reforms in accordance with their political philosophies.

Educational reforms, often integral components of nation-building programmes, have
sometimes been results of hasty deliberations in political chambers. Some countries,
such as Namibia, exhibit clear discrepancies as well between policy statements and
their actual implementation processes. The Namibian Government, upon the
attainment of independence in 1990, through the then Ministry of Education, Culture,
Youth and Sport (MECYS), took three years to produce a guiding language policy

the MECYS had already implemented the language policy in all state schools. Both Grades 8-9 in state schools were being taught in English. The phasing-in of English in Namibia is in itself a good idea in principle. the Namibian language policy made provision for commendable guidelines for implementation. however. It is imperative at this stage to revisit ‘the evolution’ of the language policy for schools in Namibia. 1994 Grades 8-11 and finally in 1995 all Grades (8-12). The MECYS set up the language development committee that produced a provisional policy for schools in 1991. From 1992 Grades 8-9 were supposed to implement English medium instructions. despite the problems mentioned. pressure groups from the Afrikaans and German communities petitioned the MECYS in an attempt to preserve their language privileges. It is hard to judge its successes.document entitled “The language policy for schools”. Haacke (1994:2-45) observed that the majority of the people in the northern part of the country had not input into the draft policy. The phasing in of English as a medium of instruction took effect from 1992. the critical issue being in this case the transition to English. In 1993 this had to continue to include Grades 8-10. it is difficult to determine whether there is a proper monitoring system in place. is of course its ultimate test. such as a report or any documented proof by the Ministry of Education and Culture or its implementing agencies that spelled out the successes of the first phase before moving to the second phase. The provisional draft language policy was distributed in schools with a questionnaire to solicit public response (Haacke 1994). The onus is upon the institutions and all other agencies entrusted with overseeing the implementation process to define the success of the Language Policy. This is contrary to the claim made by the MECYS about a ‘lengthy consultative’ process. but the issue is whether it was well-timed. in Haacke 1994). By the time the language policy document was issued. I could not find evidence. In fact only two years after independence was the language policy in schools ‘ready’ for implementation. leading towards success of failure. such as the ministry of education. However. excellence or mediocrity. As stated by Gaelge in Weinstein (1990:143). Apparently these people did not respond to the questionnaire. it is doomed to fail. With the implementation. The implementation was planned to take place in phases. and therefore their silence was considered approval of the draft language policy for school. textbooks and other relevant materials. In fact. one would expect that all the required resources such as teachers. would be in order. No matter how sound a policy can be. if it is not carefully applied. In fact. the judicious application of a policy by various governmental agencies. . the nature of the consultation left much to be desired. in response to the questionnaire. I found no evidence of this. But the results of the investigation were not made public (Chamberlain. but this was not the case. In the absence of a report or any documented evidence on the application of the language policy for schools. Though the then MECYS emphasised the democratic nature of its policy formulation (MECYS 1993) and claimed that there was a lengthy stage during the LP process to ensure national consensus. The document was issued in June 1993 (Pütz 1995:169).

MEC 1993). it is reasonable to surmise that the input of even the majority of the people could not affect the decision of the language development planning committee which was accountable to the political elite which had appointed them. but understandably only those in favour of the language policy. The document was a product of academic investigations in line with the so-called “International Model” of language planning. After the language policy was finalised. So what role have the indigenous people played in the language planning process? I can only point out that the majority of the indigenous peoples played a mere passive receptive role: digest what was given to them by the ruling elite. It is part of the planners’ task to try to achieve some coincidence among these disparate goals-to bring some order to this chaos as part of the language-planning process. a mere attempt to drum up support from the people and to justify the rationale behind the implementation of the Namibian language policy for schools. The conference should be seen for what it was. The policy document that was drafted in 1981 by UNIN entitled “Towards a language policy for Namibia” laid down the foundation for the Namibian language policy. No wonder there was apathy from the majority of the people in response to questions issued in 1991 by the language development committee. Fishman (1986) noted that it is social. This is a sign of the total disregard for mass participation in determining policies which affect the population at large. What differences was it going to make if the people responded to the questionnaire on the draft language policy for schools? Since the majority of the people were not consulted in drafting the ‘provisional language policy for schools’. supported by the Overseas Development Agency (ODA) and the British Council. Evidently. arranged a national conference on the implementation of the language policy for schools (Haacke 1994:244). linguistic and social objectives may be flying off in quite different directions and with different degrees of intensity. the most important papers of the proceedings of the conference.It supports the observation (supported by Haacke 1994) made earlier that political leaders accelerated the pace of the language planning process to fit their political agendas. if not . racial and religious differences which explain most language problems. Although the language policy ideally supports mother tongue education. political. I consider this act as a total disregard for the needs and aspirations of the people and it is therefore a threat to national unity and language harmony in the country. 1994) and distributed to schools countrywide. were published in a book from (MEC. economic and political phenomena superimposed on ethnolinguistic. it is difficult. such as teachers and textbooks. The Primary purpose of the conference was to provide a forum for informed debate and a true exchange of ideas to help promote widespread understanding of the language policy for schools and its implementation (foreword by the Minister of Education and Culture. according to Haacke (1994:244). because of inadequate resources. (1997:310) observed: that: It is likely that in any given environment. Some problems can clearly emerge as a result of the language planning process and policy. the Ministry of Education and Culture. This is a bad precedent as Kaplain and Baldauf Jr.

(1990). N. Language Planning and Social Change. (1996). The shortage of qualified teachers is a very serious threat toward the successful realisation of the language policy goals. Coleman. like other countries in Africa such as Zambia. Change and Language. Totowa. Development and the State. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd. (eds. and Cameron. J. R. London: Routledge . J. will limit the participation and involvement of the majority of its people in economic.) (1983). Language Planning: an Introduction. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Haacke (1994) pointed out that during the so-called national language conference on the implementation of the language policy for schools. and Jacob. Namibia. As Arthur (1994) and Ridge (1997:173) pointed out in Botswana. When the education system that is intended to consolidate the national policies fails to achieve its goals. (1983). not one paper was devoted to the African languages. Culture and Education. Beer. and Reddiford. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.J. (1994).L. San Francisco: Chandler and Sharp. Cooper. Language Choice in Rural Development. Dallas: International Museum of Culture. issues of pupils’ abilities in classrooms are greatly outweighed by those of teachers’ competencies because teachers have inadequate command of the medium of instruction. L. (1994) Multilingualism. Progress in Language Planning: International Perspective.: Rowman & Allanheld. Ltd. Baron. The future of the broader national language policy in Namibia might also be in jeopardy. The success of the language policy in schools to promote English and produce students who are proficient in it remains to be seen.M. (1994). (1989). This poses a possible threat to the survival and the status of the indigenous languages. political and social development. New York: Mouton Publishers. Fardon. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. K. (1997). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Clinton. and Ridge. The education sector will be a vehicle for creating an elite class that empowers the masses.G. & Graham. (1993) Language. Beveridge. Bonny. D.P. G. W. F. S. L. N. Cobarrubias. M. Eastman. The English-only Question: an Official Language for the Americans? New Haven: Yale University Press. and Fishman. London: Routledge. Edwards. C. African Languages. References Adegbija. R. (1985).M.C. R.E. J. This is coupled with what I refer to as the ‘reluctance of the elite group’ to promote indigenous languages. With the language policy that emphasises English as a sole official language. Language Policy and National Unity. Multilingualism in Southern Africa. J. Language Attitudes in sub-Saharan Africa: A Sociolinguistic Overview. (1992). we can expect failure of broader national policies.impossible to implement mother tongue instruction in Grades 1-3 in most schools countrywide.

John Hopkins University Press. Language Policy and Political Issues in Education. (1990). New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation. London: Ithaca Press. C. and Baldauf Jr. M. United Nation Institute for Namibia (UNIN). Language Planning: from Practice to Theory. Lambard. W.). Weinstein. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. .). and Ozog.D. Towards a Language Policy for Namibia. Schaffner. (1981). Zambia: UNIN. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (1982). Sandel. C.B. (1993) Bilingualism and National Development. A. D. & Corsan. (ed. B.B. C. Ministry of Education. G. Windhoek: MECYS. Kaplan. Education in Transition: Nurturing our future. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (19931994) 14. Vermont: Dartmouth Publishing Company. (1994). & Wenden. R. English Language in Sudan: A history of its teachings and politics. (eds. R. Language Policy and Planning in Independent Namibia. New York: Mouton de Gruyster. (1997). Language and Peace. Haacke. (ed. Putz. R. 1959-1994. D. (1997). Youth and Sport (MECYS).A.K. Jones.D. Culture. Wodak. Lartin.Ferguson. (1990a). 240-253. L. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd. R. (1995). Boston: Kluwer. Language Planning around the World: Context and Systematic Change. (1994) Language Repertoires and State Construction in Africa. Clevedon: Multilingualism Matters Ltd. A transitional policy guideline statement on education and training in the Republic of Namibia. (1995) Discrimination through Language in Africa? Perspectives on the Namibian experience.) (1996). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sociolinguistic Perspectives: Papers on Language in Society. (1994a). Language Policy and Political Development.M.