A group of Afrikaans-speaking students at the University of Stellenbosch has accused the institution of cracking down on the use of the indigenous language – even if it is spoken amongst friends in private conversations. Education officials deny these allegations, but the complaints are now likely to be escalated further.
Stellenbosch students say they’ve ‘been banned’ from speaking Afrikaans to each other
The accusations were made last week, after a collective of learners reached out to the DA. South Africa’s second-largest political party, and the main opposition, decided to take the case in their stride, vowing to guarantee ‘the rights these students must have to speak in their mother tongue. Leon Schreiber, the shadow minister of public works, said:
“We received reports on Friday from angry students at the University of Stellenbosch (US) that the university apparently denies them the right to communicate with each other in Afrikaans – even in the privacy of their own residences.”
“According to the complaints, the ban only applies to Afrikaans and not other languages, and Afrikaans students are forced to speak only English with their fellow students or visitors, even in situations where everyone is Afrikaans-speaking. These reports testify to nothing less than a totalitarian attack on the constitutional rights of Afrikaans speakers.”
Meanwhile, Schreiber also confirmed that the University would lead a review of its official language policy…
BREAKING: Sustained DA pressure forces @StellenboschUni to announce that its controversial 2016 language policy – which abolished Afrikaans as equal language alongside English – wil be immediately reviewed. The DA scores a victory for mother-tongue education, with more to come.
— Leon Schreiber (@Leon_Schreib) March 8, 2021
Stellenbosch University claims: Officials accused of ‘disregarding Afrikaans’
After the DA confirmed they would file a case with the Human Rights Commission about the incident, the Freedom Front Plus also chimed into the contentious matter. Party leader Pieter Groenewald has been left underwhelmed by Stellenbosch University’s initial response to the bombshell revelations:
“It seems that a disregard for Afrikaans has become the norm in higher education. And it appears that this is now true for Stellenbosch as well, the one campus that is supposed to still allow space for Afrikaans. The response by university authorities, i.e. that no ‘formal’ complaint about the matter was received, is not good enough.”
How has the university responded?
As one would expect, officials in Stellenbosch are denying that any attempt to infringe on student rights ever took place. University spokesperson Martin Viljoen has conceded that speaking in English ‘is preferred’ on campus, but there is ‘no existing policy’ that would limit somebody from using their own language in an informal setting:
’It is not University policy that only English be used in residences – or that students are barred from speaking the language. However, not everyone is fluent in each other’s languages, but everyone can at least understand English. If students want to speak any other language whilst not excluding someone, it promotes multilingualism – something we aspire to.”