Away with Afrikaans: UFS student bodies up in arms

The student representative council (SRC) of the University of Free State (UFS) has called for the abolishment of Afrikaans as a primary medium of instruction in formal classes, saying it contravenes a Constitutional Court ruling and the varsity’s own language policy.

Racial tensions have once again divided the university, with student leaders writing a memorandum calling for the university leadership to act against racism and the marginalisation of black students.

The university’s strategy for 2018 to 2034 and its accompanying document – titled “Vision 130” released this year have also come under fire from the university’s SRC and the South African Union of Student (Saus). The student bodies have slammed the document as regressive.

In the memo, which Sunday World has seen, the university’s Bloemfontein campus SRC has raised concerns about faculties offering some modules in English and Afrikaans, going against the language policy that states that formal classes are to be conducted in English.

Among the demands, the students are calling for investigations into the conduct of natural and agricultural sciences faculty lecturer, Linda de Wet, who is not only mentioned as one of the lecturers that prefer to conduct Afrikaans classes in person and English classes virtually, but is also embroiled in the latest
racism controversy.

Speaking on behalf of the SRC, deputy president Musa Masondo said it was during De Wet’s lecture on September 14 that a black student was called a baboon.

According to Masondo, De Wet allegedly wanted to downplay the racist slur by telling the black student that it was a joke that the white student meant pampoen (pumkin in Afrikaans), not baboon. “Why is De Wet and the white student’s case not treated with the same urgency as the (Dr Pedro) Mzileni case?”

In the memo, the students demand that the university leadership should ensure that investigations into allegations against De Wet were handled with the same diligence as the probe into Dr Pedro Mzileni of the sociology department.

The students’ body is aggrieved that a probe by an independent law firm has been instituted against Mzileni, who is accused of calling white people “land thieves” during a decoloniality lecture on July 25, while, the case against De Wet and the student who uttered the racial slur are being dealt with internally.

The students also want the university’s educational activities to be insulated from “external influences such as AfriForum and political forces”. “The institution should have the autonomy to manage its affairs independently,” said the memo.

Saus national spokesperson Asiwe Dlanjwa lambasted the university’s Vision 130 document, which outlines the university’s strategic direction for 2034 when it turns 130 years old.

Dlanjwa said the university was hell-bent on decreasing the number of students from rural and poor socioeconomic backgrounds.

“In line with the document, the university will do away with bridging and extended programmes,” he said, adding that the courses were key in assisting students from lower quantile schools to reach their potential at varsity.

He said this was part of the strategy aimed at returning the UFS to its Broederbond roots and at appeasing its donors, who have been closing their wallets because “they don’t feel like they belong”.

Masondo added that students were neither consulted nor inducted on Vision 130.

“It is completely alien to us and is being imposed on us. It has even replaced the university branding.” He said the students have called for the document to be re-evaluated.

UFS spokesperson Lacea Loader said the varsity’s management was aware that “there is a perceived contradiction of the language policy”.

“It is currently the practice to use the expanded tutorial system to invest in multilingualism (it will be expedited and enhanced) through trans-languaging, specifically focusing on Sesotho and isiZulu,” she said.

About how the institution is handling the two cases of racism against the academics, she said: “In both instances, the university instituted urgent and formal investigations (both involved external professional input) into the allegations that were made,” she said.

She acknowledged only one incident of in-person classes being conducted in English.

“If there are other such cases, the university management would appreciate more detail in this regard,” she said.

She said Vision 130 reflected the university’s ambition to be a university with a consistent outward focus, engaging with its local communities, and to be profound in what is delivered.

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