Testimony confirms Afrikaans bans at SU - Leon Schreiber

Head of Minerva told SAHRC that such a ban existed during welcoming period in March, says DA MP

Testimony in front of HRC confirms DA charges that Stellenbosch University violated human rights by banning Afrikaans

17 June 2021

In shocking testimony delivered on Tuesday in front of an inquiry by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) – which was initiated following complaints submitted by the DA – the head of the Minerva women’s residence, Mariëtha Lemmer, confessed that the Stellenbosch University (SU) had violated the rights to human dignity, privacy and freedom of association of Afrikaans-speaking students.

Lemmer testified that these human rights violations came about after Minerva students were banned from speaking Afrikaans during the ironically-named “welcoming” period at the beginning of March. She confirmed that newcomer students were “strictly and firmly” told that Afrikaans was banned. Lemmer openly conceded that this instruction violated a number of human rights and acknowledged that first-year students were “victimised and policed” when speaking Afrikaans. She further testified that students who objected to the ban were told to “go to their rooms,” and that students were in some cases not even allowed to sing songs in Afrikaans.

The far-reaching extent of the human rights violations was further exposed by the testimony of Simthembile Xeketwana, the residence head of Huis Francie van Zijl on the SU’s Tygerberg campus. Xeketwana confirmed that students were told not to speak Afrikaans on WhatsApp groups and that an investigation had determined that acts of “micro-aggressions” against Afrikaans-speaking students were pervasive.

Earlier on Tuesday, DA Constituency Head for Stellenbosch, Dr Leon Schreiber, outlined how the DA has consistently supported students in their search for justice in this matter. The DA has over the past months met with various affected students, conducted fact-finding missions on the extent of the university’s assault on mother-tongue education, submitted a petition objecting to the language policy that garnered over 6 500 signatures, and laid the original charges that resulted in the ongoing HRC investigation.

Schreiber also testified that the assault on the rights of Afrikaans-speaking students was the direct result of the 2016 language policy, which sought to systematically reduce Afrikaans to a second-class language at the university, and that only a new language policy that explicitly granted equal status to English and Afrikaans would resolve the discriminatory practices.

The management of SU, led by rector Wim de Villiers, ought to hang their heads in shame following these latest revelations. Instead of dealing with the violations with the necessary urgency when they became known at the beginning of March, the management has sought to downplay, deny and deceive at every turn.

But the jig is almost up.

The DA is grateful that the ugly truth about the human rights violations perpetrated against Afrikaans-speaking students is being exposed as a result of the investigation we initiated. We look forward to findings and recommendations by the HRC that will help replace the current SU regime – which we now know violates the basic human rights of some students – with a new language dispensation based on full and substantive equality of opportunity for English and Afrikaans students.

The DA will not rest until this goal, which goes to the heart of our constitutional dispensation, is attained at one of the only universities in the country with the ability to offer tuition in an indigenous African language.

Statement issued by Dr Leon Schreiber MP - DA Constituency Head: Stellenbosch, 17 June 2021