Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi says people on the opposite ends of the spectrum of the debate about language and the integration of schools share the same fears.
Lesufi was speaking during News24's Frontline panel discussion about the state of the country's schools, the issue of language and how to fix aspects of the education system.
The MEC was joined by former Gauteng Education MEC and education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe, former ANC parliamentarian Dr Makhosi Khoza and Paul Colditz, chief executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools (Fedsas).
The panellists discussed a range of topics, including school safety, multilingualism and the promotion of African languages and integration.
"South Africans must understand that we need each other more than any other time. We need to work together, understand each other's fears and deal with those particular fears," said Lesufi.
"And I can tell you that the fears of the constituency that Paul [Colditz] represents is that if we have black people there, the standards will go down. That's their fears. Their [fear] is that if you have black educators, you're inviting Sadtu (the SA Democratic Teachers Union). That's their fear. And I want to tell them I have the same fear of standards going down. I have the same fear [that] Sadtu controls rather than teaches. So we share the same frustration. So let's not use our frustrations to undermine each other's existence. Let's use our fears to build a better South Africa that we can leave for our children."
Colditz said Fedsas worked hard to promote the values of the Constitution.
"My constituency comprises all South Africans. We have schools from every section of the community, from all quintiles ... as members. So I'm not a language organisation, I'm an education organisation and a voluntary association. We do our best to promote multilingualism. We do our best to promote mother tongue education, to promote quality education, to promote value-driven education, to promote the values of the Constitution of human dignity, equality and freedom ... "
The MEC, who has been criticised of waging a war against Afrikaans, stressed several times that he wasn't against Afrikaans but was rather promoting the equality of all languages.
Khoza said it was important that African languages formed part of the debate on mediums of instruction.
"I think the most important thing we have to start with is to locate the African languages in this whole debate. If we are going to define the language or understate the critical importance of the language in the classroom, we will not be able to achieve the results we seek. Empirical studies will agree with me that language is the single most important barrier to education in South Africa ... People are going to school but they're not being educated," Khoza remarked passionately.
She said something the ANC government failed to learn from the apartheid regime was its investment in and elevation of the Afrikaans language.
Metcalfe argued that "if we're going to achieve social cohesion, which is greatly at risk, the affirmation of language as part of that social cohesion is going to be critical".
"What I think has become more pressing in society, is a sense that change is not happening quickly enough, that people feel excluded - in real terms as well as emotionally - that in too many of our social and work spaces assumptions of white superiority continue to dominate. I love the way that younger African South Africans don't stand for it and I think we've all got to learn. But the starting point of the learning is to listen. The starting point of the learning is to stop assuming the order that has been and that whiteness is correct ... " the professor said earlier in the debate.