“I’ve been doing Zulu at school since Grade 6. I’m now in Grade 11 and I don’t understand what’s going on in class. The class is taught entirely in Zulu, and we mostly just listen as the teacher reads from the set-work, translating word for word. I know I’m going to fail next year.” – Gauteng private school student

“I’ve had 8 different teachers over the past 8 years studying isiZulu. I’m failing, and I can’t even make a simple sentence” – Gauteng private school student

“I studied Zulu to Matric, and I passed it, but I can barely understand it and I can’t speak it.” – KZN private school student, with an Honours degree, now working in Gauteng.

I’ve had to limit myself to just three examples here, simply because they get repetitive after a while. I go to every new client expecting the story to be different. I have high hopes when my client is from a new school, or a different background. I take out my sheet of A3 paper and my pens, eager to begin taking their linguistic history. But I’m always disappointed. Even when my clients are positive about their teachers, they’re still coming to me because they’re not passing, or not understanding, or desperate.

You could say that only people needing help would come to me, and that I should expect these negative stories. And I do factor that in – I know that the clients I take on are usually those whom the formal system isn’t suiting, for whatever reason.

But how can someone who gets 10 A’s in IEB matric be anything less than extraordinary? How is it possible that ‘formal schooling’ is the problem for him (and the rest of his group of 4 last year, who between them got more than 30 A’s)?

So I’m forced to consider other explanations, and I realise something:

I haven’t encountered a single teacher at high school level in Gauteng whom I can praise wholeheartedly for the way that they teach isiZulu.

I can count on one hand the number of isiZulu teachers that I would class as ‘outstanding’ or ‘inspiring’.

So now I have a question – what’s the problem?

Why are schools hiring teachers who can’t teach? Is it because the people hiring them are not capable of assessing their skill in their discipline? Is it the same as what happened during Apartheid, with schools hiring Afrikaans teachers based on ethnicity rather than competence in language teaching? Or is it something else?

Whatever it is, how do we make it stop? Parents are paying outrageously high school fees, only to receive shoddy, incomplete or just plain incorrect instruction in my language.

Ngidiniwe. I’m on the point of naming and shaming.

Stop teaching my language, if you can’t do it justice.