Black researchers blast white 'experts'

University of Cape Town. File photo
University of Cape Town. File photo
Image: UCT Student @UCTStudent via Twitter

A group of lecturers from universities are demanding an audit into how African languages researches are done.

The lecturers, some of whom are involved in training teachers in language and literacy, are complaining about being excluded in discussions and funding of projects that work with African languages.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Xolisa Guluza, a lecturer at the University of Cape Town, said people who write the curriculum and those researching African language literacy are white people.

"Over time, the department of education has surrounded itself with researchers who have positioned themselves as experts in literacy and African language development but many of them do not speak, read or even write in any African language.

"This kind of arrogance smacks in the face of black researchers who do not get the same opportunities and who would never dare claim to be experts in English and Afrikaans language development even though they have learnt to speak, read and write in these languages," she said.

The group has now written to President Cyril Ramaphosa, demanding an audit into the matter. Guluza said they have watched in dismay the ways in which white researchers have centred themselves in the literacy crisis and only include black researchers as props or translators rather than the core team that does the work of setting the research agenda.

"The arrogance in assuming expertise and authority in a language one does not speak and then proceed to tell people who speak, read, write, dream, pray in that language how to teach their language is not part of the South Africa we imagined," she said.

The group wants a meeting with Ramaphosa, ministers of basic education and higher education and training to address creating an "unapologetically black agenda to solving the education crisis in SA".

The group said they have sat in seminars, conferences and meetings where they hear white researchers telling them that there are no vocabulary lists or terminologies in African languages for children.

"This is said in spite of the work and legacy of Professor Neville Alexander and his team who developed vocabulary lists and glossaries [and] translated maths and science textbooks... the archive of black-thought points us in the direction that white researchers and academics follow in the footsteps of ... a legacy of white men who became experts of African languages in order to appropriate, control and define black experience," the letter reads in part.

But Ramaphosa spokesperson Khuselo Diko said they were not aware of the letter.

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