Americans have been very vocal about wanting the English language to be considered the native tongue of America, and have openly questioned how welcoming our country should be to foreigners who cannot speak it. Well, that issue is now facing South Africa as China’s influence is now increasingly impacting the country’s national culture in many unexpected ways.
Today, South Africa’s Education Minister announced that Mandarin, the group of related Chinese dialects that together are spoken by nearly a billion people—more native speakers than any other language, will be phased in as an optional and examined subject in public schools, beginning January 2016.
Angie Motshekga, South Africa’s Education Minister, feels the move will bring South Africans closer to China, it’s biggest trading partner. The massive decision came with very few details, and the people of South Africa didn’t response well to the sudden news.
Critics have asked, “Why is our government bending over backwards for China? Do we have any say in it or is it just being rammed down our throats? Aren’t we just aiding the new colonialists? Who is really benefiting? Do the Chinese even learn African languages? Will we have to learn another language when China is no longer our major trading partner?”
In response to the news, the powerful teachers’ union retorted, “Over our dead body.”
South Africa’s sluggish economy certainly needs help and preparing now to thrive in a global economy in the future can make it highly competitive. But at what cost? China’s rise across the continent has been well documented and remains the subject of much discussion. Despite talks of partnerships and shared history, China has never hidden the fact that its economic objective ranks highest. Beijing’s business interest in Africa remains evident and history tells us that when business interests are prioritized, cultural interests are all too often minimized.
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