There has been a lot of speculation about the future of Promosa Secondary and the teaching medium the school will be employing in future. Recent interaction on Facebook inflamed some tempers, mine included, that Afrikaans might be done away with as a language of instruction. The two Coloured schools in Promosa are the only ones outside the traditional white suburbs where Afrikaans is both the home language and the medium used for education. Coloured people in Promosa now feel as if their language and heritage is being side-lined in a school standing right on their doorsteps.
The influx of learners who don’t have Afrikaans has a home language saw the inclusion of English, making the school a double medium institution. Many of the new pupils and teachers use Setswana as a home language. This has created a situation where it has become an unofficial supplemental language of instruction. Poor academic results have also added to the concerns the community have about the future of the school.
The community has found very little sympathy from the Department of Education (DOE) regarding their concerns about the use of language. Conflict ensued when the candidate preferred by the community, Godly Burrel, had to stand back for the government selected principal. Promosa has since adjusted and accommodated the current head of the school, Pelesa Mafisa.
The Potch I grew up in had barriers between White and Non-white, but those divisions were far less rigid between Black and Coloured. The residents of Ikageng and Promosa had a shared communal history prior to apartheid policy being instituted. I recall a home-town where everyone who spoke Afrikaans could greet and say a few phrases in vernacular and vice versa. I’m from a town where family ties remained strong despite being stretched by a policy where members of the same clan could be classified under different races. Being considered both Black and Coloured the home I lived in Afrikaans was generously enhanced by Setswana and English. The Potch I know has always been a mixture of Coloured and Black culture and its languages.
At its core the school’s problem is not a race or language issue, but the drop in education standards that the whole of South Africa is experiencing. The school might advise parents to instil values in their children that aids teaching and that is a fair request. Yet, many parents are disappointed when their children, well-behaved, punctual and appropriately dressed receiving no instruction for months because there is no teacher or textbooks for a certain subject. Race and language would be far less a hot topic if the end result was an orderly school that produces the results Promosa Secondary has always been known for.
The concerns about the future of the school is about the decrease in academic results and the dilapidation that has occurred at Promosa Secondary. The school has lost a proud history of producing results that attracted many out-of-town learners and now struggles with basic discipline and teaching. When representatives of the DOE state that the school is the property of the government not the community and will be run accordingly, it increases the level of anxiety in the community.
The problems now seen at Promosa Secondary are the result of a gradual decline in teaching standards, community participation as well as good parenting. There is no innocent party in the situation.
Those in the community of Promosa who want to preserve their heritage and language have to become more active in community matters and not leave important decisions to be made without their knowledge and participation. The decline in the state of the only Coloured secondary school in Potchefstroom is evidence that this has not been happening. Those who value their Afrikaans, have to teach their children to speak the language properly; schooling will only supplement what is taught at home. Parents also need to show understanding for teachers and schools that are over-crowded but under-staffed and under-resourced.
The government has to realise that it exists because of the people and aren’t above communities. The school belongs to us more than it does the government because it affects what is most precious to us; our children.
There is talk of establishing an alumni club of the schools old pupils to weigh in on school matters; a positive step in the right direction. However it must also be accepted that years of neglect and under-performance will not be rectified in a year or two. At this point the best thing the communities of Promosa and Ikageng can do is become involved in the schooling of their children. If each parent does their bit to ensure their child is effectively educated all the problems the school faces will be greatly reduced.
An edited version of this article appeared in the Northwest Independent Newspaper of 22/10/2015