Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Yesterday afternoon I had lunch with the Consul General of the United States in Durban, and the US Deputy Chief of Mission. As Consul General Ruggles is newly appointed, I shared some background on my friendship with America, from my first meeting in the Oval Office with President Jimmy Carter, to my subsequent meetings with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Bush.
I recalled how President Carter and I discussed the Sullivan Principles, which were corporate codes of conduct recently developed by a board member of General Motors. General Motors was the largest employer of black workers in South Africa at the time and was in a position to place demands on how workers were treated, as a condition of its continued presence in our country.
The Sullivan Principals, as adopted in 1977, were as follows –
Non-segregation of the races in all eating, comfort, and work facilities.
Equal and fair employment practices for all employees.
Equal pay for all employees doing equal or comparable work for the same period of time.
Initiation of and development of training programs that will prepare, in substantial numbers, blacks and other nonwhites for supervisory, administrative, clerical, and technical jobs.
Increasing the number of blacks and other nonwhites in management and supervisory positions.
Improving the quality of life for blacks and other nonwhites outside the work environment in such areas as housing, transportation, school, recreation, and health facilities.
Over 125 American corporations operating in South Africa adopted these Principles during Apartheid, and about 100 of them ended up withdrawing from our soil. The originator, the Reverend Leon Sullivan, eventually abandoned these Principles as not going far enough to pressurize the South African Government.
President Carter and I discussed where these Principles might lead. I admired the concept, for I was already a champion of black workers rights.
In fact, 3 years later, the Council of Industrial Organisation of the American Federation of Labour gave me the George Meaney Human Rights Award for my work in establishing the first black trade union in our country.
But I never believed that international sanctions and disinvestment would pose a serious threat to the Apartheid system. Instead, I feared it would weaken the economy we would inherit upon liberation, which indeed it did.
The Consul General and I had a lively conversation yesterday afternoon about the past and the present, and we spent some time considering the future of global politics. Following that meeting, I prepared to attend the celebration of India’s Republic Day at the Consulate General in Durban.
Each year, on the 26th of January India marks the coming into force of its Constitution in 1950. As South Africa’s history is so intertwined with that of India and because our country hosts the largest Indian population outside of India, it is right that we celebrate with the Indian community.
I was at university when India began its transition to a parliamentary government in the late forties. At the time, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom spoke highly of what was being achieved, saying, "The Indian venture is not a pale imitation of our practice at home, but a magnified and multiplied reproduction on a scale we have never dreamt of." Even then I was inspired to see South Africa under a Constitution that would leave the world in awe.
It would have been difficult for me to participate in these two appointments yesterday if I did not speak English, or if I were not prepared to put aside my mother tongue for a while.
I was surprised this week by the comments of the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture, who said that English has "colonized our minds". I tend to agree with Mr Neville Alexander, who spoke during last week’s public hearings on the Languages Bill. We should not make language a confrontational issue.
I cannot help but think of the Tower of Babel, where one of man’s most ambitious endeavours ground to a halt purely because those on the project began speaking different languages. I support our Constitution. I support the objective of elevating the status of indigenous languages so that all our official languages enjoy "parity of esteem". I also understand the call for mother tongue education, although I worry about how it would be implemented as our education system is far from stable.
My greatest concern, however, is the profound disadvantage we will hitch to our children if we send them into life without being able to communicate in English. English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world and is an official language of international communication. It is, by far, the most widely used language on the Internet. In fact, I am writing this in English, even though I am a Zulu, because it will be easily picked up by Google and is more likely to be accessed by users who can speak English.
My primary school education did not give me a firm grounding in English. It was only when I attended Adams College that I developed a command of the language. I then found that, for me, the written word flows more easily in English than in Zulu. By this stage of my life, having spoken both Zulu and English for many years, I find I think in both languages. But my mother tongue remains Zulu.
Wittgenstein said, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
If that is the case, I would rather my language be broad and widely understood.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP