Should Afrikaans have been Taught in Plateau Schools?

A large number of Afrikaners on the Uasin Gishu plateau in 1910 approached the Governor to establish a school for their children.  The government did establish two small schools in early 1910 but insisted on the exclusive use within them of the English language, which so dismayed the Afrikaners that the schools were not a success.  The matter was resolved in 1912 when it was agreed that Afrikaans could be used in the schools to Standard Two but after that English was compulsory.  Yet the fight was not over and for the next 25 years Loubser, a prominent Afrikaner pastor, agitated for the exclusive use of Afrikaans in schools.  He said, “We must not go along with foreign customs, we must not set the price of honour as sacred language rights, we must not forget the name and the veracity and the great history of our nation.  Twenty years from now when most of our fathers and mothers will be dead, what will become of our children?  It is not enough to leave the land and capital to them.”

Loubser opened his own Afrikaans-medium school at Broederstroom in August of 1911 and a second school at Sergoit.  He employed two teachers from South Africa, Pienaar and de Villiers.  The government refused to give these establishments financial support; Governor Belfield said: “I made it clear to them that as members of a community settled upon British territory they are not entitled to make differentiation between themselves and others residing under the same rule and that no assistance would be given unless it is accepted that the English language should be the basis for all teaching.”  The government opened the Central School in Eldoret in 1915, with the English as the language in which all lessons were taught.

Then the First World War intervened which caused difficulties for the Afrikaners, many of whom had fought against the British in the Boer war.  However, several Afrikaners did volunteer for service and only a small minority refused to serve.  By 1918 the Plateau had three educational systems for Europeans: English government-supported farm schools, the Eldoret Central School, and Afrikaans private schools. These three systems operated until the 1930s.  The Central School in Eldoret was almost entirely filled with Afrikaners.  Afrikaner clergymen were worried that the government’s insistence on the use of English in schools would damage Afrikaner culture, and this was particularly the case when the farm schools closed by 1939. The Legislative Council member for the Plateau proposed in 1939 that Afrikaans be taught in the Central School one hour per day, only to be met with the argument that “if it is to be compulsory, why should English children be obliged to learn a language that has no culture of its own, that has no future, and that is admitted to be decadent?”  Such inflammatory remarks were countered by a South African teacher retorting that the man who says that the Dutch language of Holland has no culture of its own it must be either a fool or an ignoramus.  The Eldoret representative on the Board of Education, a British clergyman, said a great many of the Afrikaners were not as loyal to the British empire as they should be and they felt that the tone of the Eldoret school made for British imperialism and there was “a danger of their children becoming good citizens of the British empire.” In Afrikaner eyes, that was undesirable.

Afrikaans was strictly forbidden as the spoken medium in the classrooms and boarding houses of the Central School, although when I was there in 1949 (my parents both taught there) the pupils all spoke Afrikaans between themselves until they saw a teacher approaching when they switched to English.  Of course the problem disappeared entirely when almost all the Afrikaners left the plateau after Kenya’s independence.