By Alexactus T. Kaure
THE beginning of this year saw a flurry of op-eds, articles and readers’ letters all discussing the issue of English. This was prompted by the widespread failure (or poor performance) of English by a number of learners, especially at the grade 12 level while the country’s institutions of higher learning are insisting on a “C” symbol as part of their admission requirements.
This healthy and crucial debate has all but abated because I suspect that some of those who were involved in it could not intellectually sustain it. But it is nevertheless an important debate and I would like to stoke the fire again.
But let me as a point departure or entry into this important debate tease out some of the headlines from our newspapers. “English in firing line’, was the main front story in the Namibian Sun. Then “The great English debate’, was an editorial also in the Namibian Sun. Here is a reader’s letter: ‘Unam English requirement needs review’, in New Era by Kingsley Ngoshi.
Then you have the following ones all in The Namibian: starting with Gwen Lister in her Political Perspective of 12 January 2018 on the language question. Then, ‘English for Gate-keeping’, by a regular letter’s writer D. Aluteni. ‘Remarking isn’t the solution’, by Willem Simon Hanse. Finally we have two from my intellectual friends. One is from Mulife Muchali, ‘Namibia’s English Nightmare – a Misguided Policy’. The other is an opinion piece by Job Amupanda titled: “English as part of the Decolonial Discourse”.
As I said, most of these substantive pieces appeared in The Namibian and it would have been apposite to carry that debate in the same paper. But unfortunately this can’t be because I am permanently banned from The Namibian for two main reasons: One has to do with the very issue we are dealing with here, that is, my English is no longer good enough and secondly, I keep on recycling old stuff from the 1990s. I accepted the ban with a humble heart and decided to move on. Excuse me for the digression but it is a useful one because many readers in Namibia and abroad keep on asking me why I no longer write for The Namibian. So, there you have it.
Back to the issue at hand: the English language controversy or the ‘great English debate’ as the Namibian Sun’s editorial calls it. There are two levels at which this debate is being conducted. One is at the practical and pragmatic level and the other is at the conceptual, contextual and decolonial levels.
The first is more concerned about English as being a hindrance, barricade or a gate-keeper which deny students an opportunity to access higher education institutions because of the high standard (a “C” which is just an average!) set for English as an admission requirement. Thus some would argue for the down-grading of English and to promote local languages instead. Others say why should a student with straight“As” in all the other subjects, or a student who is going to do science courses, be denied admission because he/she failed English.
Aluteni, for example, argue, as do others, that the use of English has perpetuated the celebration of white supremacist ideology which has been strengthened by the elitist neo-liberal policies. I can’t agree more.
But what we are dealing with in the midst of this controversy is the critical question of language and the relationship between knowledge and language. Yes, we all agree that English is just a language and not knowledge – it is not a measure of intelligence. But it is a means of communication through which ideas, experiences and knowledge is transmitted and acquired.
So, a mastery of language (any language) is vital especially at a university level where a student is required to handle ideas at an advanced and conceptual levels. We have in this country consciously (perhaps becauseout of necessity) adopted English as the official (national?) language and also the medium of instructions at our institutions of learning. In fact, the issue of English was decided upon in exile – at the UN Institute for Namibia (UNIN) where I had one year stint.
Article 3 of the Constitution clearly states: “The official language of Namibia shall be English”.Thus to down-grade is status or lower admission requirements, is simply a cry in the wilderness. This is not a misguided policy as Muchali argues and neither should we settle for mediocrity.
Now let us turn to Amupanda’s decolonial discourse. The immediate question to ask is: can we decolonise the Queen’s language? The language of the ‘Empire’? Which Anglophone country has successfully and completely decolonised English?
I think the decolonisation journey by many former British colonies got stuck on the highway to London and ended up in Lagos with what Amupanda rightly points out as, “Nigerian Pidgin English”. Unfortunately, no lecturer/professor would use Pidgin English to teach students at universities like Ibadan, Lagos and others.
While students at the University of Manchester, Vi t u r a K a v a r i and I went to a public lecture by a British historian, titled ‘How to Lose an Empire and Retain Control’. His argument was that Britain might have lost control of its overseas colonies but has nevertheless still retained control, citing English as being the most widely used language world-wide today.
English has gained an official status in at least seventy-five countries and it is undoubtedly the most widely taught foreign language among all languages in the world. Being a lingua franca in science and technology, economics, politics, education, journalism, media, law and culture. You can have your versions of English like Pidgin, Namlish, Yankee, Australian, Canadian, Indian, Chinese, Pakistani, South African, Malaysian etc. But the Queens’s language has solidified its status as the international language and this is hardly contested.
In his famous essay called ‘Decolonizing the African Mind’, Chimweizu, a Nigerian scholar, argued that Europeans used three methods: “territorial, intellectual and mental to colonise and manipulate the minds of Africans.”
Thus, to decolonise imply the need of the emancipation of the colonized people from the subservient psychology and mind-set subjugated by the fabricated colonial ideologies imposed on them due to long term rule of the colonial powers.
De c o l o nisation is a political process which the world experienced at the dawn of the 20th century. But in most colonial settings, colonialism has been remarkably resistant to decolonisation as we now know in retrospect.Thus, despite notions of post-coloniality, settler colonial societies do not stop being colonial when political allegiance to the founding metropole is severed.
We have failed to decolonise the Queen’s language, to decolonise Christianity (our National Assembly usually open with a prayer in a country that is supposed to be secular state) and we are a member of the British Commonwealth and even countries like Mozambique and Rwanda which were part of the Lusophone and Francophone spheres of influence respectively are now members of the Commonwealth.
Thus, we so far failed to decolonise at the “territorial, intellectual and mental” levels.Was colonialism then so profound and so broad that it became so resistant to full decolonisation? That is the question/challenge that we need to address.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015