The Department of Basic Education has confirmed Mandarin will be introduced as a subject in South African schools next year.
A circular was issued by the department to national and provincial education authorities, indicating that the Chinese language will be added to the school curriculum in January 2016.
Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department will try to teach the language to as many people in the country as possible, AFP reported on Wednesday.
The programme is part of a 10-year plan signed in December last year by President Jacob Zuma, and will be taught as an optional extra.
The move has been met with criticism by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), which claims adding Mandarin to the curriculum is “another form of colonisation”, Eyewitness News reported.
Sadtu’s general secretary Mugwena Maluleke told the Mail & Guardian that the union would oppose the language’s introduction to the curriculum, describing it as the “worst form of imperialism”.
However, the department said the decision was based on growing demand from parents.
Mandarin is currently taught in other southern African countries.
Hundreds of South African teachers will be trained at three Confucius Institutes designed to promote Chinese culture, AFP reported.
In April, News24 reported that Eastern Cape police would also learn to speak Mandarin, in an effort to bridge the communication divide when policing Chinese communities.
“Our first training will see 40 police officers, sourced from the sector policing units of 20 police stations across the Eastern Cape, trained to speak Chinese,” Colonel Thembisile Gweyi said at the time.
Gweyi said the project would also be rolled out nationally.