Yesterday morning there took place at Lecture Room 203 of the University of Johannesburg main campus, the last session of the conference of Afrobyzantine and Grecoafrican Studies. The topic was Modern Greek (language) and Greeks in Africa. Unfortunately two of the speakers could not make it to Johannesburg for different reasons and since both would be talking about the Greek communities of Africa (A. Chaldaios about the Greeks of Tunis and E. Mantzaris about the Greeks of South Africa), only Alexandra Fefopoulou’s paper dealt with topics of the Greek diaspora. She presented in a very nuanced manner the case study she is dealing with for her doctoral dissertation, namely the Greek community of Lubumbashi, DRC, and issues of identity within this community. Alexandra showed that the field of (Greek) diaspora studies may be the most fruitful future for the historical-cultural dimension of the academic activities of the department of Greek and Latin Studies at the University of Johannesburg. Her introduction of anthropological methodologies will only be of further profit for the department, while her experience from fieldwork with the community at Lubumbashi can also find application in similar researchers with the communities in South Africa. A first impression of her view upon the ‘objects’ of her research was offered through the photographs from the visit to Soweto she shared with us, and this entry will also be illuminated by her photo-study during a visit yesterday evening to the Patriarchal Greek Orthodox Church of Agioi Anargyroi at Sophiatown in Johannesburg. But more about that later.
Now, for the core of yesterday’s morning session: the three other papers presented were concerned with the teaching of Greek in South Africa. The session proved not only interesting for the insights offered, but mainly because it provided the first opportunity to bring together representatives from the five sectors of the Greek diaspora in South Africa that need to be brought together in order to find solutions for education in Greek that seems to trouble a lot both families and institutions. These five sectors are:
1. The Department of Greek and Latin Studies of the University of Johannesburg that is the sine qua non for the existence of Greek language in the matric of South African education system – here, I need to refine something written in an earlier entry from Johannesburg: I had suggested that the reason for the inclusion of the Greek language in the South African education as one of the optional second languages was the importance of the Greek community of the country; however, the legal framework defines things differently, namely that a language can be included in the curriculum only when it is provided in an institution of Higher Education. Therefore, the existence of the department of Greek and Latin Studies at UJ is of primal importance. If it stops existing, the typical raison d’être of the teaching of the Greek language in South Africa will also cease.
2. The representative of the Greek ministry of education, namely the coordinator of Hellenic Education in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Themis Leontitsis is the acting Educational Attaché and not only did he follow a good part of the conference’s proceedings but also spoke about his views on the way Education in the Diaspora will be improved, namely by imbuing the educational programme with Art and Culture (in the lines set by the Melina program).
3. These ideas are very much related with the reality on the ground of education in South Africa as it was proved during our visit to Soweto, and the Primary School where Mrs. Ava Papatheophilou is teaching Greek. Because in that school, a typical example of a public school in urban South Africa, more artistically expressive than discursive forms of teaching seem to prevail and give results for the children. Mrs. Ava’s presence yesterday gave the guarantee that there will be a link between the local communities and the Greek diaspora in the difficult to trace path of teaching Greek in the near future.
4. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the following: another parameter of the South African legislation for the teaching of the Greek language inside local schools is that there must be at least 50 pupils that will be following the class. Only then will a teacher be assigned. Obviously this does not satisfy the Greek communities that wish irrespectively of numbers to be able to continue providing Greek language to the new generations of Greeks in South Africa. The role of the Greek communities is pivotal in the heart of the problem, which is the existence of teachers of Greek in South Africa. Will they be sent from Greece? Will they be hired by the Greek Communities? Will they be provided by the local people who will learn Greek in their schools and in the University? It seems that the answers will be given when issues of both financial order (as pointed out in the paper by Katerina Skoupra, teacher at the Greek private school SAHETI), and mentality (as shown from the Socio-Linguistc analysis presented in the paper by Allister McDuling) will be dealt with and resolved.
5. In the meantime, there is an arena of life where the Greek language seems to be of great importance: religion. The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the most crucial points of reference for all Greek diaspora communities. It might be the case that quite often the English language is also used in the Mass, but Greek remains the preferred choice for the majority of the congregation and cements the feeling of belonging to a single group defined by terms of nation and respect of tradition. Moreover, the Church is an institution that provides both staff for the schools (i.e. priests working as teachers) and funds for higher education and venues for gatherings of the community.
It was in a religious gathering that the day yesterday came to a close: the Vespers at the Patriarchal Greek Orthodox Church of Agioi Anargyroi at Sophiatown. Today is in fact the day of commemoration of Saints Kosmas and Damianos. The celebrations brought the priests from all the Greek Orthodox dioceses to the Patriarchal church. Under the guidance of Bishop Damaskinos and inside a lavishly decorated with murals church, a quite numerous congregation prayed for hope for both their homelands, in Greece and South Africa.