On 28 January 1920, the first Afrikaans medium school, the Afrikaans Higher School, opened its doors at 218 Visagiestraat, with 44 pupils and three teachers. It was the home of commandant-general Piet Joubert who led the Boer forces in the First and Second War of Independence.
The school was called the rebel school because it dared to use Afrikaans as the language of instruction.
In 1930 the school split into a boys’ and a girls’ school, today known as Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool and Afrikaans Hoër Meisieskool.
The girls’ school has the touching motto: “I see her winning”, a stanza from a poem by Jan FE Cilliers: “I see her winning, for husband and son and brother, because her name is Woman and Mother!”. The poem was written following the women’s demonstration of 1915 when thousands of women marched to the Union Building to demand the release of General de Wet and other rebels.
In the 1930s there was an explosion of Afrikaans schools that came into existence. It was the time of the great Afrikaner poverty issue. One of the underlying causes of the poverty was identified as lacking cultural self-confidence and the cultural poverty of Afrikaners. The Carnegie Commission pointed out the danger of a feeling of inferiority. Dr. NJ van der Merwe said language pride is a remedy against inferiority and culture is a weapon against poverty.
Afrikaners responded to the poverty by holding various national congresses and founding numerous cultural organizations, but also Afrikaans schools.
For Rev. JD Kestell offered education as the answer to breaking the cycle of poverty. He was concerned about the 72,000 out of 280,000 children who had no schooling in 1916. Only 10% of children who did go to school completed high school.
The answer was education in one’s own language.
Afrikaans became a language of aspiration and was modernized through Afrikaans. Culture was expressed through language and it became much more than just a communication medium. Besides schools, the emphasis was placed on vocational and university training.
The strength of Afrikaans schools has always been more than knowledge transfer. Values were quickly embodied in mottos: “Let there be Light”, “Work and conquer”, “The goal before eyes”, “Aware of calling”, “Watch and work”, “Work and create”, “We turn to the top”, ” Knowledge enlightens”, “I see her winning” and many, many more.
The mottos confirm that Afrikaans schools are about much more than language. This is reflected in words such as faith, vocation, knowledge and work.
It is not language that makes Afrikaans schools outstanding, but values and culture. Mother tongue is the best medium to transmit knowledge, but it is also the medium, as mothers do, to transmit culture.
If you change language, you change who the school is and therefore also the children. If the Afrikaans community embraces its language, it also embraces who its children are. She will not allow her children to be taken, “because her name is Mother”.
These combinations of language and culture have established schools that here at the southern tip of Africa compare with the world’s best. As a country, South Africa performs almost the worst in the world in Mathematics. If African schools are grouped as a country and then compared with the rest of the world, they perform among the top ten in the world, better than countries such as Australia, the USA, England and New Zealand – the countries to which many people emigrate . So if you want to emigrate for the sake of your children, emigrate to an Afrikaans school.
It is these values and culture that make children successful in their studies and work.
This is what made Anton Rupert, Deon Meyer, Japie van Zyl, Ettienne Rossouw, Koos Bekker, Jan Bonsma, Wally Grant and countless other world-class figures.
Now the government wants to hijack Afrikaans schools. They took all our power, train tracks and hospitals. Now they want to take our schools too.
The new Bela Act wants to take the power to determine language and admission out of the hands of governing bodies and place it in the hands of the state. They want to make our schools state schools and some of our children state objects.
Afrikaners have decided a long time ago that we are not going to allow this. We already decided against English in schools after the Anglo-Boer War. It took hold further in 1920 and gained speed at the time of the greatest poverty in the Afrikaner’s history. It was for the sake of our children.
Minister Motshekga does not realize what language at schools means to us. It is more than language. It is who we are and how we do things. Afrikaans remains the language through which we aspire. Afrikaans remains the language from which we excel, also in an English and global world. Afrikaans is the language through which we transmit knowledge and culture from generation to generation.
We decided a long time ago – our heritage is beautiful to us. African schools remain. Our birth DNA is rebellious. It’s still like that.
Our rebels are going to protect and build. We are going to shield our current schools in boardrooms and courts, and if necessary, in the streets.
However, we are going to build new schools on the other side of the state just as hard with trowels. It will capture the imagination.
Shields and trowels, Afrikaans education remains! It is not even an issue.
Sorry minister, in a generation there will still be excellent Afrikaans schools here. This is who we are. We are not going to give it up and you are not going to take away what is not yours!
It’s in our rebel blood.