Afrikaans and the DA: A Reply to Douglas Gibson

Hermann Giliomee says soon there will be no Afrikaans language university in the WCape, but the party says nothing

In his article “Afrikaans and the DA: A Reply to Hermann Giliomee” (Beeld and Politicsweb) Douglas Gibson manages to misunderstand my argument completely

I wrote positively about the DA’s policy of cultural pluralism that held sway until 2015 and more specifically its stance with respect to Afrikaans as a language of instruction. It was highlighted on 14 November 2015, when there was a heated debate in the process of drafting a new language policy for the University of Stellenbosch.

On that day Prof. Belinda Bozzoli, the DA’s Shadow Minister for Higher Education and Training, issued a very strong statement in favour of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. She stated that the proposed policy of the US management to make English the primary language of instruction represents a violation of the constitutional right of every person to be taught in an official language of his or her choice where it is feasible in practice.

Prof. Bozzoli also expressed serious concern about the university’s lack of consultation around language policy. The US ignored Prof Bozzoli’s statement.

As the party in power in the Western Cape - and as such responsible for primary and secondary education in the province - the DA has a particularly strong interest in schools using the best medium of instruction. The memorandum submitted by the federation of the controlling bodies of South African schools (best known by its acronym Fedsas) offered a very good pointer.

Nearly 2 000 schools countrywide, of which more than 400 schools are located in the Western Cape, are affiliated to Fedsas. In its memorandum to the US management Fedsas stated that its members were unanimously in favour of the maintenance of Afrikaans as a fully-fledged language of instruction. It urged the university to maintain Afrikaans as the dominant mode of instruction as it was before 2000. As the only university in the province that uses Afrikaans medium it ought to promote Afrikaans and continue to foster its development.

The US happened to ignore the submissions of the DA and Fedsas and most of the other memoranda summited to it. The place under the new policy that is reserved for Afrikaans teaching is so insignificant that its marginalisation and displacement is predestined.

The significance of the medium of instruction was highlighted in a study of the Council on Higher Education that probed the success rate of the different population groups in studying for bachelor degrees during the period 1970 to 2010. It found that the percentage of white and Indian students awarded bachelor degrees rose from 18% to 29%. The figure for blacks dropped from 11% to 9% and that of coloured students sank from 10% in 1970 to 6% in 2010. The signs are that the performance of the latter group is deteriorating further. These facts were blithely ignored by the people that formulated the new language policy at US. 

One gets the impression the same is true of the DA leadership. Over the past 18 months it has remained quiet about the fact that there soon will be no university in the Western Cape where Afrikaans is used as language of instruction. It has enormous implications for the schools in the province, which fall directly under the DA administration.

The DA also said nothing when the Council for Higher Education overstepped its powers by warning the law faculty of the Potchefstroom campus of North-West University not to market itself as place where students could get a law degree by studying in Afrikaans. In the case of the University of the Free State they could have spoken up when the court deemed parallel medium education as violating the constitution. Will the DA say anything if Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch and Grey College in Bloemfontein get a similar judgment against their policy of parallel-medium education?

Gibson’s article misconstrues several of my arguments. I have never argued that the DA-controlled Western Cape government has the power to force a university to change its language policy. But because education on primary and secondary level is a competence in which a provincial government and the national government have concurrent powers and because the DA is in power in the Western Cape it would be fully in its rights to enter into a discussion with both the national government and the US management about the implications of the US language policy. Will the DA now encourage Afrikaans schools to switch to English as the medium of instruction despite abundant evidence in the literature showing that it will be to detriment of Afrikaans learners and students? Or, will it offer its support for an Afrikaans-medium university? In all multi-cultural societies these are issues which no party can afford to duck.

My question remains. Why has the DA remained so quiet over the past eighteen months about the major setbacks Afrikaans has suffered? Is it because it has its eyes on the 2019 election or is it simply that it has ceased to care about existing rights being trampled upon as is happening at the US or the underperformance of a community like the Afrikaans-speaking coloured people? The kind of obfuscation one finds in Gibson article will impress few voters.