Language policy review a stain on UP's name – AfriForum

Organisation says arguments that claim the call for education in Afrikaans is “racist”, show ignorance as not all Afrikaners are white

AfriForum describes language policy review process as a stain on UP’s name

31 May 2016

The language review process currently being followed by the University of Pretoria (UP), is considered by AfriForum as a stain the institution’s reputation as a seat of academic freedom and high-level academic thinking. This comment was made in response to media reports that a UP language work group virtually unanimously recommended that classes and exams at the university should in future be offered in English only. AfriForum was not part of this work group – although AfriForum Youth was part of it, they walked out after their efforts to provide input were ignored.

According to Alana Bailey, Deputy CEO of AfriForum, their position on the process is based on the following points, among others:

- UP’s Centre for Human Rights is unique in the country, with the inclusion of a course on language rights. It is incomprehensible that an institution which has the vision to promote these rights, will at the same time discriminate so blatantly against the language rights of a large portion of its student body.

- Like many other universities, the UP seems to succumb to ideological pressure and anarchist threats of violence – an approach that is not fitting for an institution that highly regards academic freedom and excellence.

- The South African Constitution very clearly states that students are entitled to education in the language of their choice. Internationally, this right is qualified by practical feasibility – in other words, the language must be developed to a level where education at the highest academic level is it possible. This has been the case with Afrikaans for decades. To our knowledge, only one linguist, namely Prof. Sheila Mmusi, has been included in work groups involved with UP’s language policy review process. National and international experts in the field of language rights, language sociology and university financial management should serve in advisory committees if well-reasoned, expert input is expected.

- The accessibility of the consultation process is being questioned. The announcement on it appeared on the university’s website, but AfriForum – who has for many years talked directly with the management of UP about language – had to learn about the process via our youth movement and now had to prepare a presentation in a hurry. We have learned that other institutions with outstanding academic reputations also had to find out about the process in an indirect manner, even though the university management is very aware of their existence and importance.

- The time frame for input on an issue of such importance is insufficient, which further proves how lightly the process is being handled.

- Cost is frequently used as an argument, but have accurate calculations been made about the cost of monolingualism? This includes academic impoverishment, but more practically the cost of losing non-English-speaking students and donors, as well as the cost of courses which students will fail or discontinue because of language problems.

- Media reports convey the lie that a monolingual English policy will promote “social cohesion”. In South Africa, 16 June 1976 reminds us how serious we have to take students’ right to be taught in their mother tongue, and that the enforcement of monolingualism results in dissent and violence. International Mother Language Day (21 February) came into existence because of the violation of students’ right to study in Bengali – students who protested for this right, were shot dead. In Asia and elsewhere many peace projects currently involve actions to promote language rights.

- UP’s approach is not in line with current developments in Africa either – in Ghana and Tanzania, for example, monolingual English education is increasingly being abolished in favour of indigenous languages.

- Not all Afrikaners are white. Census 2011 proves this. The arguments which claim that calls for education in Afrikaans are “racist”, show so much ignorance that they are not even worth mentioning, especially not by representatives of a tertiary institution.

 AfriForum will make a presentation on UP’s language policy and will do everything possible to protect the rights of Afrikaans-speakers at this and other institutions.

Issued by Alana Bailey, Deputy Chief Executive, AfriForum, 31 May 2016