[lg policy] South Africa: NWU management has defended its controversial Afrikaans language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 23 14:29:20 UTC 2013

language policy

22 AUG 2013 18:07 BONGANI NKOSI <http://mg.co.za/author/bongani-nkosi>


NWU management has defended its controversial language policy, which sees
non Afrikaans-speaking students using translation headsets during lectures.
[image: Nehawu has protested that North-West University is not transforming
to reflect the racial dynamics of the province and country.

Management of North-West University (NWU) has defended its controversial
language policy, which entails non Afrikaans-speaking students at its
Potchefstroom campus receiving lessons through translation headsets in
class because lectures are mostly conducted in Afrikaans.

University management rejected demands for a review of the university’s
language policy following a protest march a month
ago<http://mg.co.za/article/2013-07-20-nehawu-march-potchefstroom> by
National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu).

A letter signed this week by acting registrar John Botha, which the *Mail &
Guardian* has seen, said NWU has "implemented a functionally multilingual
language policy" since 2007, which was adopted "after a proper consultative
and inclusive process".

"Apart from classes offered in the parallel and dual modes of delivery,
large-scale educational interpreting services are rendered. Study guides
are throughout available in both English and Afrikaans, and in some
instances also in Setswana and Sesotho."

NWU has 52 000 contact and distance learning students at the campus, about
31 000 of whom are black African and 3 000 coloured.

Hundreds of Nehawu members and sympathisers, including students from NWU’s
three campuses, took to the streets of Potchefstroom a month ago to
march on NWU’s campus in the town. They protested that the university was
not transforming to reflect the racial dynamics of the country and North

An excessive use of Afrikaans on the Potchefstroom campus was one of the
examples the union cited. Another was an allegation that management was
blocking an independent investigation into the mysterious drowning of
first-year student Thabang Makhoang in 2012. Nehawu alleged that there was
victimisation of students who spoke out against management and racist
labour practices.

Patrick Makhafane, North West secretary of Nehawu, told the *M&G* on
Thursday: “We think that [this translation mode] is disadvantageous to the
majority. It’s always best for any student to receive lessons first hand.
This way they can engage much better in class. We don’t understand why the
university is not changing that system [to start] using English as a medium
of instruction.”

But the use of Afrikaans on the campus will remain, NWU management told
Nehawu. "It is important to mention that both the Constitution and the
National Language Policy for Higher Education allude to the importance of
retaining Afrikaans as a language of higher learning. Although the NWU has
a large number of students who prefer to be taught in Afrikaans, it remains
mindful of the fact language may not act as a barrier to access and

University spokesperson Louis Jacobs was not immediately available for
comment on Thursday, but he told the*M&G* after Nehawu’s march a month ago
that the translation system was "so successful that other universities in
the country want to adopt it". PhD students performed the live and direct
translations, he said.

Management said in its response to Nehawu that it was "particularly
concerned about [the university’s] role and contribution as far as the
elevation of African languages as languages of higher learning are
concerned ... Although various projects are under way in this regard, much
work still needs to be done."

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has urged the
country’s 23 universities repeatedly to foster teaching of African
languages. And in May the University of KwaZulu-Natal announced that all
its undergraduate students would be required to take an isiZulu module
before they can graduate.

The *M&G* reported earlier this
that lectures
at Pukke, as the campus is nicknamed, are predominantly in Afrikaans and it
could prove difficult to navigate the campus if you do not speak the
language as all the signs are in Afrikaans.

On Nehawu’s allegation that management is blocking an independent
investigation into the death of Makhoang, the letter Botha signed this
week says a probe by the university’s council last year – led by advocates
Vusi Pikoli and Lourens de Koning – "found that the drowning was an
unfortunate accident, for which no blame could be levelled against any
individual or entity ... In addition, the South African Police Service did
its own investigation and no prosecution flowed from that."

But the letter concedes that university staff, especially at management
level, are not yet truly racially transformed: "The improvement of equity
profiles remains an important priority of the human-capital agenda of the
NWU as is prescribed by the national legislation. Equity management is a
vital aspect of the university’s commitment to contribute to development.

"Various measures are in place, both at governance and management level, to
monitor and measure the effectiveness and efficiency of the equity
enhancement processes at the NWU."

It rejected outright claims that management targets and victimises
outspoken black staff and students. "It is impossible for the institution
to have any say in the outcomes of the process, procedure and the decisions
of the presiding officers" as all disciplinary hearings are chaired by an
"independent" individual.

Makhafane said Nehawu leaders and the union’s allies would convene soon to
discuss management’s response and decide their next step. "We may find a
situation where we intensify our action," he said.

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