Battle for soul of Afrikaans at SA universities rages

The battle for the soul of Afrikaans at South Africa’s universities is raging, with the University of Stellenbosch (SU) the latest to be backed into a corner over its decision to get rid of the language as one of its mediums of instruction.

Judge Robert Henney this week ruled that the SU’s refusal to comply with a request from the DA under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) was “unlawful and in violation of the provisions of the PAIA”.

Leon Schreiber, DA MP, said the court further ordered the university to comply with the PAIA request within five days by handing over all records relating to [vice-chancellor] Wim de Villiers’s alleged improper contact with retired judge Edwin Cameron during the court case over the abolition of Afrikaans as a primary language of teaching, alongside English.

“The DA remains absolutely committed to the principle that Afrikaans deserves an equal place alongside English as a primary language of instruction at SU, and we will keep fighting until the constitutional right to mother tongue education is finally respected by Stellenbosch University,” Schreiber said. “We remain determined to get to the bottom of what happened during the court case that robbed thousands of Afrikaans students of their right to mother tongue education.”

In October last year, the Constitutional Court ruled that Stellenbosch University’s language policy is in line with the constitution – dismissing att empts to have it overturned. The university adopted new language policies in 2016, changing the primary language of instruction from Afrikaans to English.

However, soon after the judgment, allegations emerged that De Villiers had attempted to improperly influence retired Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron by offering him the position of university chancellor. The DA then used the PAIA to try and obtain “evidence” from the university about the alleged collusion between De Villiers and Cameron.

In a written response, the university said last year it received a “hardly credible” complaint from Schreiber against De Villiers regarding the election of Cameron as university chancellor. “Nevertheless, and for the sake of transparency, SU appointed an independent judge to investigate the complaint. Retired judge Burton Fourie ruled that Schreiber’s complaint was without merit. The SU council accepted the judge’s report and also made it available to the public for the sake of transparency,” a response from SU read.

The University of South Africa’s language policy was thrown into disarray last month after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruled that the university must, with eff ect from next year, reinstate Afrikaans as a language of instruction.


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