[lg policy] South Africa: Maties language policy excludes blacks

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Sep 8 16:42:05 UTC 2015

 Maties language policy excludes blacks
by Gita du Toit, September 08 2015, 05:54

[image: Students hold placards at a protest against alleged racism on
campus brought to light by a documentary, Luister (Listen), in Stellenbosch
on Tuesday. Picture: AFP PHOTO/RODGER BOSCH]
Students hold placards at a protest against alleged racism on campus
brought to light by a documentary, Luister (Listen), in Stellenbosch on
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THERE is no way of looking at the University of Stellenbosch’s language
policy without concluding it deliberately excludes black South Africans
from seeking an education there. By insisting that the university keeps
educating in Afrikaans, you are insisting on its whiteness.

I am a white, Afrikaans alumna of the university, with a familial legacy
that stretches much further back. I have delighted in sharing my long and
established history with Stellenbosch since I graduated in 2012.

The #OpenStellenbosch movement obtained critical mass over the past week.
My history there means that my social media feeds have been vibrating with
thinly veiled racist opinions — posted in English — about the validity of
the movement’s claims. What I have come to understand from these posts is
this: we don’t want you here.

Instead, we want to keep Stellenbosch as our own. To extrapolate: diversity
is good and well for places such as the University of Cape Town and Wits
University, where the buildings are made of brick and you can see the
highway from campus.

At Maties, the classes are painted pearly white and no one has to see the
grit that lies beyond the veil of the winelands. We intend to keep it that
way. Our students walk to class on tree-lined streets with small outdoor
cafés and parents get to feel proud that their children are getting the
right kind of education. We may have to put up with diversity elsewhere,
but not in Stellenbosch.

• Stellenbosch University uses a T-language policy, which has been
controversial since its inception. The reason everyone has a hot take on it
is that it does not work. Lecturers spend an unreasonable amount of time
switching between English and Afrikaans, with so much being lost in
between. It doesn’t help to promote Afrikaans and it certainly does not
help the academic experience.

• Afrikaans is not, and will never be, recognised as an international
academic language. To pretend otherwise is foolish. Any university, and
especially those that view themselves as exceptional, should make the
communication of knowledge via critical thought its highest priority.

• Educating the masses is incredibly difficult and, right now, SA is
failing. To demand that a teenager seeking an education should learn
another language is cruel and unnecessary. Securing a generation of skilled
labour should not be restricted to proficiency in a language that holds no
real marketplace value.

• The argument most popularly used is that "they can go somewhere else".
Ignoring the wildly racist "othering" of such rhetoric, this ignores what
those of us who were lucky enough to attend the university implicitly
understand: Stellenbosch is special. It is unmatched by anything else. If
the privilege of attending is conditional on being fluent in Afrikaans,
admittance is conditional on being white or, at the very least, conditional
on being the kind of black person who doesn’t make swathes of the student
body uncomfortable.

Stellenbosch is a special place. The cultural and academic opportunities it
affords its students are unmatched. Are we really going to convince
ourselves that those virtues are afforded simply by the grace of
overwhelming whiteness? Surely, we cannot support those who underestimate
Stellenbosch so offensively. Are we really that committed to pretending we
don’t live in Africa?

Stellenbosch University management has two options: continue pretending
that the T-language policy works and that claims of racism are "unique".
This would prove the university is stagnant in its insistence on protecting
the feelings of dead Afrikaans men and the comfort zone of their privileged

The other option is to make English the primary language of instruction and
transform the university into a benchmark of comprehensive and inclusive
African tertiary education, to help foster and nurture an environment in
which we can come to find the Tolstoy of the amaZulu or the Twain of the
amaXhosa. What a magical thought.

• *Du Toit is a University of Stellenbosch alumna.*


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