No ban on Afrikaans, SU students and staff tell Human Rights Commission
16 June 2021
Earlier this week (14 and 15 June 2021), the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) heard further submissions on the alleged ban on Afrikaans in residences during the welcoming period at the beginning of the academic year at Stellenbosch University (SU).
An SU management delegation, led by the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers, appeared before the SAHRC on 10 May. He then said, "There is no ban on Afrikaans at SU - not in lecture halls, in residences or anywhere else on campus."
On Tuesday (15 June), several members of student communities at SU, who have knowledge of alleged incidents regarding the use of Afrikaans on campus, testified.
Ms Riana Engelbrecht, the resident head of Irene women's residence, told the Commission that there was never any ban on a specific language at this residence. This concurs with Deloitte's finding that they could not identify any evidence to support Irene's alleged ban on the use of Afrikaans during the welcoming period.
On Monday, Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Vice-Rector: Learning and Teaching, said in a letter to staff and students that Deloitte had been asked for an independent forensic investigation, and he provided feedback from the Deloitte report, which was received last week.
Deloitte found that there was no SU management instruction to prohibit the use of Afrikaans, and that residence leaders did not issue a prohibition on the use of Afrikaans.
On Tuesday, Dr Simthembile Xeketwana, resident head of Huis Francie van Zijl on SU's Tygerberg Campus, told the Commission that he had never been instructed to tell students not to speak Afrikaans. "We are diverse, come from various backgrounds and welcome the fact that people speak their languages," he said.
The primaria (head student) of Huis Francie van Zijl, Ms Cailin Thorp, said the use of language is not policed. The deputy primaria, Ms Caitlin Sithole, added medical students embrace the multilingual environment in the residence as it helps them communicate with patients.
Dr Xeketwana, who is a lecturer in curriculum studies, also told the Commission that the Faculty of Education teaches and conducts meetings in Afrikaans. He also speaks isiXhosa at work.
In his presentation to the Commission on 10 May, Prof De Villiers explained that SU uses the three official languages the province where the institution is located, the Western Cape, namely Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa.
“SU promotes multilingualism to expand equitable access, create an inclusive campus culture, and support student success. We believe that by being exposed to multilingualism and learning to respect each other's cultural heritage, our students become involved citizens in a diverse society," he said.
On Tuesday, Mr Jethro Georgiades of SU's Centre for Student Communities, told the Commission that he had not received any complaints through official channels about the use of Afrikaans at the Capri Private Student Organization (PSO) during the welcoming period.
This is in line with Deloitte's finding that they could not identify any evidence to support an alleged prohibition on the use of Afrikaans by Capri during the amaMaties day on 6 March 2021.
Mr Georgiades also told the Commission that one of the PSOs for which he is responsible, Equité, paid for interpreting services in Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa during the welcoming period.
Ms Mariëtha Lemmer, resident head of the Minerva women's residence, said that when misunderstandings about the use of language occurred during the welcoming period at Minerva, it was made clear that there is no ban on Afrikaans or any other language, and that Minerva has an inclusive approach to language. Students from all over South Africa and other countries reside in Minerva, and some of them cannot understand Afrikaans at all.
She said a "dark atmosphere" prevailed in the residence in the aftermath of negative media coverage of the incident, but after intense discussions, mediation and counselling, things improved. The house committee apologised to the first years, and the matter was resolved.
Prof De Villiers previously told the Commission "we are confident that our students have more choices, greater access and a better future thanks to our approach to language".
Statement issued by Martin Viljoen, Manager: Media, Stellenbosch University, 17 June 2021