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The Invisible War

22 January 2013, 15:10

Foreword: This is an issue that is very close to me and that undoubtedly increases the risk for biased opinion and reasoning. If I am guilty of such practice, please do not hesitate to take me up on my views.

I recently came across a thought-provoking article on the Stellenbosch University blog pertaining to the furiously-debated language policy at the university. As an Afrikaans person myself, it is saddening to see my mother-tongue being used as a political weapon wielded at those who claim that they are post-apartheid, when they are still harbouring ill-will towards their fellow South Africans. The article focused mainly on a motion handed in by Stellenbosch alumni on their seemingly nonchalant approach to enforcing the proposed T-specification classes (both Afrikaans and English). This was substantiated by claims that when one or more English students were present in a lecture, they would complain about the use of Afrikaans, and the class would quietly segue into English. Whether these anecdotes are to be believed or not is debatable, but the larger issue is ever-present nonetheless.  

Naturally, when the motion was handed in, the first few dissidents cried "Apartheid" and "anti-transformation", propagating the idea that elitist Afrikaans intellectuals were using Afrikaans as a means of keeping other population groups out, and ensuring that it remained a white enclave. To say that I am deeply offended is enormous restraint on my part. Even though I completed my secondary schooling in English abroad, I have now returned to South Africa to attend Stellenbosch University. It was attractive to me because it offered a high-standard of education in a culturally familiar environment. I was firmly told that Afrikaans was going to be taught in class and that I should be able to follow academic direction in Afrikaans, which I accepted as the norm, even though Afrikaans is not my strongest language. But it seems as though many English-speakers are trying to remove Afrikaans from the equation under the veil of "multiculturalism".

Unfortunately, this signals almost certain extinction for the language in the next few years, where parallel classrooms are becoming more and more popular, and the demographics will inevitably begin to skew in favour of English education, leaving Afrikaans in its wake. My first year of instruction at Stellenbosch will be in English, as there are already classes that run fully parallel in my faculty. At the moment the other years (2nd and 3rd) are still only Afrikaans, but with a growing English population (coming from a parallel stream) this will soon no longer be sustainable. Some critics simply need to stop assuming that Afrikaans = white power, apartheid etc, an argument I no longer even consider when looking at these situations. And most of all, realize, that as with most things done in relation to Afrikaans and its people, it's about conservation, and not segregation. 

Stellenbosch University is the only tertiary institution in our province that still teaches in Afrikaans, a rare species in a country where integration (RAU) has signalled total eradication of Afrikaans as an academic language. So whilst I am totally for the advancement of South Africa as a multicultural society (e.g. the establishment of tertiary institutions that teach in isiXhosa), you cannot aim to transform one culture to accommodate others, as it only leads to further cultural erosion. In a nutshell: Stop trying to promote “multiculturalism” and “transformation” at the expense of Afrikaans.

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