DA leader John Steenhuisen visits and supports Afrikaans students in Stellenbosch
10 March 2021
Today, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen, DA Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Chantel King, and the DA constituency head for Stellenbosch and Stellenbosch University (SU) alumnus, Dr Leon Schreiber, conducted an oversight inspection and fact-finding mission to the SU, after reports that students were banned from speaking Afrikaans at their residences, in public, and even on park benches on campus.
The DA is perturbed about the concerns raised during our discussions with some of the students involved, as well as with student organizations and representatives of the convocation. It is clear that the practice of intimidation is not limited to one residence. We have heard from students from different residences that they are even forbidden from speaking Afrikaans while brushing their teeth in the morning. Several students have revealed how they were intimidated when they complained and several have referred to the impact this has had on their studies because they struggle with English on an academic level.
The problem is clearly systemic, and the crisis has been further exacerbated by media reports today that the university intends to only offer future courses in English. What is currently taking place at SU is a shocking violation of Afrikaans students' constitutional rights. Despite its lame excuses, it seems that these latest transgressions are completely in line with the spirit of the 2016 language policy, which Afrikaans was abolished as an equal language of instruction alongside English.
The DA is committed to the language rights of all South Africans as contained in the Constitution and will therefore use all evidence gathered today to lodge a formal complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), as well as drive the issue in Parliament. We call on these Constitutional institutions to launch urgent investigations into the matter as this issue is of great importance to our Constitution's quest to build a nation where diversity and multilingualism are seen as an asset, rather than a burden.
We must also keep the context in mind. Until 2016, Stellenbosch was the last university in the southern half of the country to still offer instruction in Afrikaans. After the 2016 decision to abolish Afrikaans as an equal language, four million Afrikaans speakers in the Western and Northern Cape no longer have access to higher education in their mother tongue. This, despite the fact that Stellenbosch has the ability to offer instruction in Afrikaans – as it has indeed done for more than a century.
The university likes to say that the number of Afrikaans students is decreasing, and then use that argument to further scale down the Afrikaans offer. But their argument is wrong. The number of Afrikaans students is declining precisely because obtaining a tertiary education in Afrikaans is constantly under attack, as we saw this week. How can the university expect students to feel welcome on a campus where they are intimidated and victimized when they speak Afrikaans?
The DA will intensify its campaign to defend mother-tongue education in Stellenbosch. On behalf of the millions of Afrikaans speakers in the Western Cape and Northern Cape, we insist that Afrikaans be equated with English at SU, and that mother tongue education be expanded, not attacked.
Issued by John Steenhuisen,DA Federal Leader, 10 March 2021