South Africa: The University of Johannesburg woos Afrikaans students

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Oct 18 18:54:44 UTC 2008

 UJ woos Afrikaans students

By Thabiso Thakali

The University of Johannesburg has launched its most aggressive
campaign yet to attract Afrikaans-speaking students back to its
campuses in the three post-merger years. UJ came into being in 2005 as
a result of a merger between Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) and
Technikon Witwatersrand and the incorporation of the Soweto and East
Rand campuses of Vista University. The recruitment drive, which
includes visits to Afrikaans communities, is aimed at turning the tide
on an apparent decline at the university in the number of students who
prefer to be taught in Afrikaans. Professor Derek van der Merwe,
deputy vice-chancellor and vice-principal of UJ, told the Saturday
Star this week the decline was because of a perception that UJ had
become an institution where English was the only language of

"It is important that we attract as diverse a student body as
possible, in order to give effect to live our values of being an
embracing institution that respects and promotes diversity," he said.
"Even though a large number of Afrikaans-speakers prefer to be taught
in Afrikaans, the multicultural dimension they bring to the
institution is important."  But the South Africa Students' Congress
(Sasco) has lambasted the plan as an attempt to maintain "the status
quo" of the former RAU in the new university.  "As much as there has
been an improvement on the intake of students particularly from
previously disadvantaged backgrounds, the values and culture of RAU
still remain today, and this is where the attention should be
directed," said Xolani Mkhwemnte, Sasco's UJ chairperson.

A senior manager at the university told the Saturday Star there had
been an exodus of white Afrikaans-speaking students at UJ because they
perceived that what had been regarded as "the heart and soul" of the
institution had been taken over by blacks.

"Unfortunately, the decision to go on this drive was also based on a
perception that I find quite strange," said the manager.

According to a student head-count for 2008 at UJ, there are 45 232
students in all campuses, of which 42 430 preferred English as the
language of instruction and 2 802 preferred Afrikaans.

The university's senate recently approved a language strategy for
teaching and learning that allows for Afrikaans to be used as a medium
of instruction alongside English in 11 courses, whereas English will
be used as medium of instruction for the rest.

Van der Merwe said the promotion of multilingualism at a public higher
education institution was a constitutional obligation, and this was
reflected in UJ's language policy.

"UJ's vision is to be a premier, embracing African university, and one
of its core values is respect for diversity," he stressed.

"This is reflected in its language policy, which provides for four
official languages at the university [Afrikaans, English, Northern
Sesotho and isiZulu].

"The university recognises that of these four languages, only English
and Afrikaans are fully developed languages of higher learning,
therefore only Afrikaans and English are used as languages of

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