English to be main language of instruction at Stellenbosch University

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Cape Town - All learning at Stellenbosch University will soon be done in English, the institution said.

"Since English is the common language in South Africa, all learning at Stellenbosch University will be facilitated in English, and substantial academic support will be provided in other South African languages, according to students' needs," the rector's management team on the university's language policy said in a statement.

"At the same time, by means of its language policy and language plan, the university is committed to the creation of spaces within which English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and other languages can flourish.

“In particular, the university remains committed to the further development of Afrikaans and isiXhosa as academic languages."

Read more: Dual-medium teaching not yet fully possible - Stellenbosch University

It said that for modules with large enrolment numbers, and which are divided for "pedagogical reasons" or because of the size limits of available lecture venues, the university would keep on expanding parallel-medium instruction in lectures.

"In smaller class groups all information will be conveyed in English."

Afrikaans, isiXhosa to be additional languages

In residences and "other living environments" students should use English as the common language in house meetings and other official functions.

"Other languages can be used additionally, and mechanisms like interpretation can be employed," it said.

"The primary language of communication and administration at Stellenbosch University will be English, with Afrikaans and isiXhosa as additional languages."

The team said in its statement on Thursday that it supported these principles, "as points of departure related to the language policy and language implementation".

It would discuss this with the university's council on November 30, for a revised language policy.

It said it acknowledged the contribution of the Open Stellenbosch group in recent discussions "to ensure that language implementation does not form a barrier in the way of access to learning opportunities at Stellenbosch University or the successful completion of academic programmes".

‘A significant victory’

Open Stellenbosch said in a statement on Facebook that the university's "Language police has fallen".

"Management has agreed to our demand to table this decision at the next council meeting, to be adopted as the official position of the university from here on out," it said.

"The radical change from instrumentalising Afrikaans as the primary tool for oppression and exclusion, to adopting a language shared by all as the official language, is a significant victory in this struggle for access to education and for social justice in this country.

"We celebrate this victory and at the same time we remember those who died for this to become possible in the long years of struggle against apartheid. In particular we remember the students of 1976."


Several months ago the university's management briefed Parliament's portfolio committee on higher education on its progress in implementing its transformation plan and language policy for the institution.

The move was prompted by the widely-circulated documentary, Luister (Listen), in which students and lecturers tell of discrimination on and off campus.

Read more: Racism the norm for black Maties - Luister filmmakers

Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande demanded answers from the university council after seeing the documentary.

The issue was not only about Afrikaans as a language of instruction, which some students said excluded them from some subjects, but also about racist attitudes among some white students and academics, he said at the time.  

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