Mandela and Afrikaans: From Language of the Oppressor to Language of Reconciliation

Michael Le Cordeur
2015 International Review of Social Sciences and Humanities   unpublished
It wasn't just a rabbit that Mandela pulled out of a hat when he quoted Ingrid Jonker's poem Die Kind (The Child) in his inaugural State of the Nation address to Parliament in May 1994 (Joubert, 2003). He had cherished his love and respect for Afrikaans for a long time. In a nation as diverse as South Africa, language is an important and emotional issue. In this paper I will describe why Madiba studied Afrikaans in prison on Robben Island, why he used Afrikaans to reach out to the Afrikaans
more » ... king community of South Africa, why he asked Stellenbosch University to change their language policy, but more importantly, how he used the Afrikaans language to understand the Afrikaner, their history and their culture in order to create a new South Africa where everybody, including Afrikaners who felt under threat, could feel welcome. When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, the nation accepted a new Constitution which stated that everyone has the right to education in one of the official languages provided it is reasonably practicable. By offering official status to Afrikaans and nine other indigenous languages alongside English, Mandela afforded all South Africans the opportunity to learn in their mother tongue. As such, Madiba transformed the education landscape in South Africa for ever. Against the backdrop of South Africa's diverse and multilingual cultural heritage, this paper describes how Nelson Mandela took up the challenge of leading a young democracy by improving the education system.