The walls of the cheery preschool classroom at the Alma Mater
Akademie in Krugersdorp, near Johannesburg, are covered with words
3-year-olds the world over learn: colors, numbers, animals.
But the 20 or so blond children who sit waiting for their midday
snack are part of one of South Africa's new educational trends.
Unheard of a decade ago when the National Party ruled, new private
Afrikaans-language schools like the two-year-old Alma Mater are
opening around the country, catering to a growing group of well-
off Afrikaans families concerned about the decline in public
education and the growing dominance of English.
Twenty-five years ago, black students in Soweto rose in protest
over government efforts to force the use of Afrikaans, the language
of white Dutch settlers, in black township schools. Now the tables
have turned, linguistically speaking. Eight years into the new
South Africa, the growth of schools like Alma Mater reflects a
growing fear in the Afrikaans community that their language will be
"Parents feel that the state schools are no longer offering an
adequate education for the Afrikaans-speaking people," says Simon
Lee, a spokesman for the Independent Schools Association of
Southern Africa (ISASA), the country's largest association of
private schools. "A lot of Afrikaans people are concerned that
their culture will be overwhelmed completely by English, and that
their language will disappear."
In South Africa, which now has 11 official tongues, control of
language, especially in education, has long been highly politicized.
During the apartheid era, the government tried to enforce the use of
Afrikaans as the country's primary language, requiring its use in
black schools and in government.
The issue ultimately became the tinder that ignited the anti-
apartheid movement, after police fired on elementary school
students marching June 16, 1976, to protest a new law requiring use
of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. More than 700 people
died in the riots that engulfed the country over the next four
Nelson Mandela's government, which came to power in 1994, gave
the country's 11 languages equal status and allowed students to
choose the first language in schools.
English flourished under the new system and has been embraced by
many families who were forced during the apartheid era to study in
Afrikaans or languages native to Africa. In the private school
sector, the trend in black communities is toward foundation of
small independent schools that emphasize English.
Meanwhile, Afrikaans-speakers are clinging to their linguistic
tradition. In 1991, South Africa had no independent Afrikaans-
language schools. Today, ISASA has 17 Afrikaans schools as members,
and Mr. Lee says there are likely a number of other fledgling
schools around the country that are unaffiliated. …