SU’s language policy offers little for future of Afrikaans – AfriForum

This state of affairs takes place at expense of students’ development and needs of population

AfriForum says SU’s second draft language policy offers little for the future of Afrikaans

14 August 2021  

As required, AfriForum submitted comments on the second draft of a revised language policy of Stellenbosch University (SU) by the deadline of 14 August 2021. Although the university’s task team made an effort to prove that comments made on the first version of the policy were taken into account and were even sometimes used in the second draft, AfriForum does not regard this as any proof of a strong commitment to the protection and promotion of Afrikaans as a medium of tertiary education.

As in the past, the university undertakes that three languages in particular, namely Afrikaans, English and Xhosa, will be used in all areas, and that multilingualism will be promoted. Afrikaans is no longer described as “not indigenous” in accordance with the absurd definition in the policy of the Department of Higher Education. Following Judge Steven Majiedt’s comments in the Constitutional Court during AfriForum’s case against Unisa’s monolingual English language policy, it would be difficult to continue using this definition though. Furthermore, the principle of translanguaging is endorsed and the university also acknowledges that the inclusion of Afrikaans opens doors for SU in the international academic world, with specific reference to the Netherlands and Belgium. Overall, however, these are but minor cosmetic adjustments along the road to anglicisation.

In response to the question of what the ideal would be, Alana Bailey, Head of Cultural Affairs at AfriForum, replied that a public university’s commitment to mother-language education would be the answer. “In the Western Cape, prospective students can choose between several public tertiary educational institutions, but in none of them can a student receive tuition for a qualification entirely in Afrikaans, even though about half of the province’s residents speak Afrikaans as first language. One would expect universities to prove their commitment to South African languages ​​by ensuring that at least one institution per province caters for mother-language education. This would already have been possible in Afrikaans in the Western Cape, while the need would at least have forced another institution to develop Xhosa to this level with much more effort. Thus, each province could choose at least one or two languages ​​to develop as future primary languages of instruction. Now, however, the reality is that nine of the indigenous official languages ​​are progressing slowly with no certainty about their ultimate status, Afrikaans is battling to maintain its high-function status and English is and remains the only predominant academic language in the country.”

According to Bailey, this state of affairs takes place at the expense of students’ development and the needs of the population they will eventually have to serve. Afrikaans speakers who studied in their mother language at monolingual Afrikaans institutions in the past, occupy some of the most senior positions in various sectors all over the world. Mother-language education promotes multilingualism, tolerance and loyalty to the local community, as studies have proven. Unfortunately, all universities want to attract as many students as possible, and to make this possible, they deviate from mother-language instruction and include English in an effort to be everything to everyone. Thus, English-speaking students and communities benefit at the expense of the more than 90% of South Africans who do not speak English as a first language.

“As long as languages of smaller communities must compete with English, the languages will experience a developmental struggle and their speakers will suffer consequences such as the early cessation of studies, lower literacy levels, a lack of ability to formulate and express coherent arguments, feelings of inferiority, higher unemployment figures and greater potential for social unrest. However, universities do not bother to take these phenomena, which have been thoroughly documented for decades, into account when drawing up language policies. For this reason, South African communities’ main hope for long-term success and prosperity is private institutions that offer mother-language education,” says Bailey.

AfriForum encourages lecturers and students to seize any opportunities that the final language policy of SU will create for mother-language education, while continuing to demand that their language rights must be recognised and promoted. Bailey is adamant that Afrikaans speakers should persist in creating more opportunities for their language, as well as other indigenous languages.

Issued by Andrea van Wyk, Media Relations Officer, AfriForum, 14 August 2021