There is simply no way of looking at Stellenbosch University’s language policy without coming to the conclusion that it is deliberately excluding non-white South Africans from seeking an education there. By insisting that the university keeps educating in Afrikaans, you are insisting on its whiteness. I am an alum of SU. I am also white and Afrikaans. I have delighted in sharing my long and established history with Stellenbosch since the day I graduated in 2012. I spent nine years in that town with a familial legacy that stretches much further beyond that.
The #OpenStellenbosch movement obtained critical mass over the past week. My history there means that mysocial 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.
1) Stellenbosch University currently employs a T-Language Policy. It has been controversial since its inception. The reason that everyone has a hot take on it: it does not work. Lecturers spend an unreasonable amount of time flip-flopping 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.
2) Afrikaans is not, and will never be, recognized as an international academic language.
To pretend otherwise is foolish. Any university, and especially those who view themselves as exceptional, should put the communication of knowledge via critical thought as its absolute highest priority.
3) Educating the masses is incredibly difficult and right now South Africa is failing. To demand that a teenager seeking an education should learn another language to do so is cruel and unnecessary.
4) The argument that is most popularly used is that ‘they can go somewhere else’. Ignoring the wildly racist othering of such rhetoric, this conveniently ignores what those of us who were lucky enough to attend SU 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 non-white who doesn’t make swathes of the student body uncomfortable.
Stellenbosch is a special place. Its natural beauty is unparalleled. The cultural and academic opportunities that 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-Option works and that claims of racism are ‘unique’. This would break my heart and prove the university is stagnant in its insistence of protecting the feelings of deceased Afrikaans men and the comfort zone of their privileged youth.
The other option is to make English the primary language of instruction and transform the university into the benchmark of comprehensive and inclusive African tertiary education. To help foster and nurture an environment where we can come to find the Tolstoy of the Zulu’s or the Twain of the IsiXhosa’s.
What a magical thought.