A decades-long fight to have English as the main language of instruction at the University of Stellenbosch will soon become a reality. In a decisive move on Thursday, the university said all learning should be facilitated in at least English to ensure no exclusion due to language.
“Language should be used in a way that is oriented towards engagement with knowledge in a diverse society and to ensure equitable access to learning and teaching opportunities for all students. Since English is the common language in South Africa, all learning should be facilitated in at least English to ensure no exclusion due to language. The university remains committed to the further development of Afrikaans and isiXhosa as academic languages,” said university management.
The statement sets the tone for the way forward, and forms part of an on-going consultation and communication process with the broad campus community and other stakeholders. These included the SRC, Open Stellenbosch, SASCO and the Student Parliament.
The university said it does not imply the “abandonment of Afrikaans” as the language of learning and teaching at Stellenbosch University. The university remains committed to the further development of Afrikaans and isiXhosa as academic languages.
The historic announcement follows months of protest by the Open Stellenbosch movement demanding that Afrikaans be scrapped as the primary medium of instruction. The issue was thrusted into the public spotlight after a video called Luister went viral on social media. The documentary tells the real life stories of students affected by racism.
Open Stellenbosch says that the new policy signifies the evolvement of the university in South Africa. According to the Higher Education Transformation Network, introducing English as the sole medium of instruction is the way forward.
“It indicates the development of a formerly elitist university preserving Afrikaner nationalism,” says director of Alumni Support and Media Relations Hendrick Makaneta.
But Afrikaner civil rights group Afriforum believes Afrikaner nationalism faces extinction with the new language policy.
“The path that Stellenbosch University has taken is unfair and unjust. In 1994 we were told the constitution would represent everyone but policies continue to discriminate certain people,” says Deputy CEO Cornelius Jansen Van Rensburg.
The civil society organisation says that the university’s decision to lecture solely in English not only signifies the erosion of the language in South Africa but proves that Afrikaner nationalism is under attack due to transformation policies.
“It is definitely an attack on Afrikaans as a very important language in South Africa. It is the second biggest language in South Africa,” says Van Rensburg.
“There is an in justice being committed against Afrikaners by not allowing them to speak their language of birth,” he added.
“It is our Constitutional right to be taught in a language of our choice. We have the right to be taught in mother tongue. This policy is unjust, unfair and an attack on people who speak afrikaans,” says Van Rensburg.
For the student movement, English as a primary language of instruction at universities is paving the way for South Africa towards greater transformation. Although the Makeneta is happy with the new policy, he says that policies cannot change the attitudes of students.
“Transformational policies that welcome change and the values of our democracy cannot always change societal attitudes. The University of Stellenbosch still has a long way to go as the students’ attitudes towards transformation and racism has to change.” VOC (Nailah Cornelissen)