[lg policy] South Africa: Stellenbosch Uni’s defence of Afrikaans wins day; but what’s true motive?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Dec 3 16:15:34 UTC 2015

Stellenbosch Uni’s defence of Afrikaans wins day; but what’s true motive?

*Afrikaans is under sustained attack. Its antagonists, led by a group
calling itself Open Stellenbosch
believe their actions are justifiable. Behind the rhetoric is the
retribution for the Apartheid Government’s idiotic 1976 attempt to push the
language deeper into Sowetan schools. That the riots it sparked happened
almost 40 years ago, seems to matter little to the revenge seekers. Because
on any rational assessment, that is the only motive which would have driven
the concerted attempt to eject the language from the tribe’s spiritual
heart at Stellenbosch University. Afrikaners are critically important
contributors to the health of the South African economy, providing the
biggest slug of private income tax and playing an enormous role in keeping
the country’s wheels turning. Although many Afrikaners have emigrated, by
far the majority have committed themselves to a long term future in the
land of their forefathers. Needlessly attacking their language and the
institutions they created and hold dear, is irrational. Historian and
academic Hermann Giliomee applied his mind to the attack on Afrikaans – and
the spirited defence. This piece is republished with kind permission of
Giliomee and Politicsweb. – Alec Hogg     *

*By Hermann Giliomee**

“Enjoy the war, the peace will be much worse”. These words were spoken by a
member of the Council of Stellenbosch University (SU) during a seven hours
debate yesterday on a future language policy.

A very ugly peace would have broken out had the university’s top management
succeeded in getting their proposal accepted to make English the primary
medium of instruction and communication and the compulsory medium of
discussion at all university committees and assemblies. Afrikaans would
have been driven out from the class and committee rooms, leading to a
vicious backlash.
[image: The Ou Hoofgebou (Former Main Administration building, now the Law
Faculty) on Stellenbosch University campus.]
Ou Hoofgebou (Former Main Administration building, now the Law Faculty) on
Stellenbosch University campus.

A year ago Council endorsed a policy in terms of which Afrikaans and
English would enjoy equal status as a medium of instruction and
communication. On 12 November the management suddenly drew a line through
that language policy to come up with one that one that installed English –
which it called “the common language of the country” – in a paramount
position and even insisted that it could be implemented from early next

Since the Council, according to the Statute, has the final say on the
language matters the administration seemed to show it a middle finger. To
make matters worse the Senate, made up of university professors, backed the
executive, although it must have known that its vote was out of order.

The Council, to its credit, refused to be intimidated. One-fifth of Council
members were elected by the Convocation of alumni and the donors and they
run the risk of being thrown out at the next election if they appear weak
on maintaining Afrikaans on the campus. In recent times some illustrious
public figures have suffered painful defeats in Convocation elections.

Read also: Stellenbosch University: 30 000+ in bid to retain Afrikaans as
default language

In the Council meeting the threat of the executive being repudiated hung in
the air but in the end sanity prevailed. It decided not to censure the
Executive and to revert to the 50-50 policy for Afrikaans and English.

What was completely unanticipated in 1994, when South Africa made its
transition to an inclusive democracy, was that at the campuses of the
Historically Afrikaans Universities Afrikaans-speaking academics and top
executives would take the initiative in steadily reducing the Afrikaans
offer. Narrowly pursuing their own individual or corporate interests, this
group did not feel accountable to students, parents, clients or the
Afrikaans community.

Referring to their actions, Gerrit Komrij, a Dutch literary critic, in 2003
described Afrikaans as*lewenddood *(alive-dead). He pointed out that an
elite was busily amputating limbs from Afrikaans despite the fact that the
body was healthy, and indeed alive and kicking. He concluded that as far as
the future of Afrikaans was concerned, the greatest threat to Afrikaans was
Afrikaans-speakers themselves. Over the next twelve years
Afrikaans-speakers had a leading hand in smothering Afrikaans on campuses
where they were in a position of power.

The mistake the present SU executive made was to try to get rid of
Afrikaans as university language as soon as possible. One could also call
it a *blitzkrieg*. What would have happened had the executive got its way?
A pointer is a poll conducted in 2008 by Lawrence Schlemmer.

Commissioned by the SU Council, he conducted a comprehensive attitude
survey of the language preferences of Stellenbosch students. It found that
only 15 per cent of Afrikaans would accept a policy that would make English
the only medium of instruction and more than two-thirds would be very
dissatisfied. More than 40 per cent of English speakers would regret it.

At the other end of the spectrum stands Open Stellenbosch, a small,
predominantly black pressure group that was instrumental in forcing US
management’s hand. One spokesmen responded to Monday’s decision to revert
to the 50-50 policy by calling the Council “incompetent” and “ignorant
about transformation.” Another spokesman said that Council missed the
chance to start the process of transformation but had chosen to preserve
the status quo.

It is a mystery how the US Executive could have allowed itself to be backed
into in a position where it was seen to have capitulated to this small
group. Piet le Roux, one of the younger Council members did not hide his
delight about Council’s decision. “This is victory for Afrikaans …it would
have been unthinkable that a few months after the Council adopted the plan
to give Afrikaans and English equal status to relegate Afrikaans to an
inferior position.”

In Monday’s meeting Council also withdrew its complaint against Le Roux who
had tweeted “Blade Nzimande and transformania will not triumph. Support the
new Afrikaans Alumni Association.”

In a certain sense we have a return of history. During the 1920s and 1930s
when the two white communities referred to themselves as two different
“races”, some English newspapers and politicians criticized the growing
demands of Afrikaners for single-medium institutions as a form of ‘racism’.

The Afrikaans language was of lesser importance than the task of welding
the two races into a nation. At some point in the 1920s the writer C.J.
Langenhoven replied by asking an English politician the simple question:
‘Why is my politics always racism and your racism always politics?’

He satirized the approach of the nation-builders as follows: ‘Friends, let
us make peace and keep the peace. Let the lion and the lamb graze together,
the lamb on the pasture and the lion on the lamb … The lamb will soon be
part of the lion. The lamb will get the honour and the lion the pleasure.”

In recent times a similar dynamic had developed with bodies like Open
Stellenbosch demanding the pleasure of devouring the Afrikaans lamb at
Stellenbosch. For the moment the US Council has managed to ward off the


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