No campus is an island
Efforts to change the language policy of the last remaining predominantly Afrikaans campus is proof of a racist contempt for Afrikaners, writes Kallie Kriel It is surprising that in today’s SA, there is still such opposition from minority groups to breaki
The rainbow nation is dead. Figuratively speaking, it has been smothered by the ANC’s policy of “transformation” – which calls for the composition of all institutions to be “representative” of the country’s racial demographics. This policy destroys the diversity in the country to which the rainbow metaphor refers.
You do not have to be a mathematician to realise that “transformation” will result in all institutions in the country being predominantly black, with English as the language of communication. This is exactly what Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande wants to happen to the Potchefstroom campus at NorthWest University.
Despite this, the ANC has succeeded over the past 20 years in establishing the policy of ‘transformation’. Nobody dares take an open stand against it, despite the fact that the word appears nowhere in the country’s Constitution.
The strategy for silencing potential opponents of this policy is simple: Accuse them falsely of racism, say that they ostensibly do not want to promote diversity and also do not care for poor, black people. However, the opposite is true. Supporters of this policy use the term “transformation” as a convenient cover behind which they live out their racist contempt of minority communities like Afrikaners, and through which a small, elite group profits at the expense of the poor masses.
The advocates of the “transformation” of the Potchefstroom campus still use the argument that the inclusion of English as the language of communication on this campus will not harm Afrikaans and will promote diversity on the campus. This while the insistence on “transforming” the Potchefstroom campus shows no historical awareness of the destructive effect this policy has had on Afrikaans as a language of communication at universities and other institutions over the past 20 years. At the former Rand Afrikaans University, which was established in part with funds raised by the Afrikaans community, the “transformation process” started in the same way as that which is now being proposed at the Potchefstroom campus, namely that English should be introduced as a full second language of communication to promote access and diversity. Today, the result is obvious: a predominantly black campus with English as the language of communication. The same process is being carried out at the other former Afrikaans universities.
In a country where 37 of the 38 university campuses mostly use English as a language of communication and only one campus is still primarily Afrikaans, it is difficult to accept that the creation of opportunities and access for students who prefer English as a medium of instruction is the true motive for the insistence that the Potchefstroom campus’ language policy be changed. Targeting the last Afrikaans campus is proof of a racist contempt for Afrikaners.
While the political ideologists calculate what the racial composition of institutions and sports teams should be, they forget that people are involved, rather than cold statistics. The complaints AfriForum has received from many parents of “born-frees” who are left out of provincial school sports teams because of their skin colour create a sad picture of young people whose dreams are destroyed under the pretext of “transformation”.
Supporters of “transformation” are quick to argue that Afrikaners are thriving economically, and that there is nothing to complain about. This type of argument does not take into account that prosperity involves much more than economic position, and that Afrikaners still perform well economically because of inventiveness – in spite of the obstacles that “transformation” throws their way. However, money cannot buy restitution for a child whose dignity and dreams of the future have been impaired by their skin colour.
By opposing the ANC’s “transformation” policy, we can help to build a society that works to combat poverty and create opportunities without destroying diversity.
In his budget vote speech two weeks ago, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said that “racist or exclusionary practices have often been defended on the basis of tradition and culture. While they may have been acceptable under apartheid, I want to emphasise that we no longer have Afrikaans or Zulu or Tswana universities. All our universities are South African universities and must serve all the people of this country. No university can be complacent in this regard as discriminatory practices take many forms, including some that are quite subtle but harmful just the same.” It is surprising and very disappointing that some have found this statement offensive and seen it as a death knell for Afrikaans at South African universities.
It is more disappointing to see the youth, the future of our country, who may have no experience of our racially divided past, challenging the transformation programme of our higher education system. The Education White Paper 3: A Programme for Higher Education Transformation provides clear guidance on how language policy should be dealt with in the higher education sector and there should be no diversion from its prescripts. In line with the Constitution, it states that “multilingualism is a prime objective of national language policy” and higher education institutions are expected to have their language policies in line with this objective. The department supports the sector, for example, through facilitating national initiatives to develop academic terminology in all official languages and the competency of academic staff and students to work effectively in multilingual environments.
Afrikaans is an African language that was advantaged over others in apartheid South Africa. So, providing for other African languages that were underdeveloped is the essence of transformation as far as languages are concerned. Doing away with transformation in relation to multilingualism means reverting to the past and, in effect, preserving certain universities for some language groups. This is unacceptable as it goes against the grain of social inclusion and the construction of a rainbow nation guided by our Constitution.
Making universities accessible to all South Africans was never meant to entail the elimination of Afrikaans in the system. In fact, the councils of universities are mandated to determine the official languages of their institutions. They do so under the guidance of the Constitution and we should not divert from it. This mandate allows a few institutions to continue to conduct academic activities in Afrikaans: there is nothing wrong with this as long as it is undertaken in the context of the deliberate and effective development of other languages and careful attention to ensure that unfair preference is not given to Afrikaans over other languages. No language should be used as a barrier to access to higher education.
The white paper clearly states that the language policies of higher education institutions should bear in mind “the fundamental right of persons to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions, where it is reasonably practicable to do so, and the duty of the state to ensure effective access to and implementation of this right [section 29(2) of the Constitution]”.
The paper also puts the onus on our higher education institutions to develop all our official languages, including sign language. This is in line with our Constitution. The department’s policies and resourcing of universities has never diverted from the Constitution.
The minister has said that if we are to sustain the development of African languages, there are important lessons to be learnt from how Afrikaans was developed to the level of it being an academic language. It cannot be that the language is being destroyed by government.
Those who perceive this could be considered to be malicious and out of touch with the developments in the higher education system.
Most students at North-West University in Potchefstroom are opposed to the proposed language reform policy