Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on Thursday came out against the decision by the University of Pretoria (UP) to phase out Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
The traditionally Afrikaans university announced that English would be used as its primary language at all its campuses.
While students who registered before 2019 would still be given the option to be instructed in Afrikaans, those newly registered will attend English-only classes.
Mboweni tweeted: "I publicly, and in my personal capacity, DISAGREE, with the phasing out of Afrikaans as one of the mediums of teaching at the University of Pretoria. As a country, you are shooting yourselves down. You will regret it in 30 years’ time."
UP spokesperson Rikus Delport said between 1992 and 2015 the number of students who registered Afrikaans as their home language decreased by over 50%, prompting the change, EWN reported.
Delport said this served to make the campus more inclusive.
"It’s aimed at facilitating social cohesion on the campus. We will continue to encourage multilingualism to foster unity and provide equal opportunities for students of all South African languages. We encourage the practice of assisting students in their home language where possible."
Delport told Pretoria East Record that the policy was adopted in 2016 by the university’s council and senate after an "extensive consultation process and recommendations from all interested parties".
According to The Citizen, Delport said the decision from the various interest groups was informed by the findings that the percentage of students who reported their home language to be Afrikaans had decreased from 85% to 30% between 1992 and 2015.
"In 2016, approximately 18% of students expressed a preference for Afrikaans as a medium of instruction."
Civil rights group AfriForum also came out against the new policy in a statement on Thursday.
"AfriForum finds it worrisome that the university, notwithstanding many international research projects and expert opinions, still does not understand that unilingual education, in fact, undermines social cohesion and increases the potential for conflict and student non-performance.
"It is also clear that the university’s management does not understand the term ‘multilingualism’.
"If students on campus, in lecture rooms and even in student accommodation only use one language – namely the colonial language English – it amounts to unilingualism, not multilingualism, because there is no room for more languages in the formal university environment."
Newly appointed vice-chancellor and principal Professor Tawana Kupe told The Sowetan that UP would no longer use Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and communication starting from the current academic year.
"Lectures will be in English, the administration and the e-mails will also be in English. People can speak to each other in the language of their choice.
"The minute we use two languages people think it is still an Afrikaans university. But it is now just a South African university.
"This will help the university reduce costs as everything was duplicated," he told that publication.
According to Ohann Fourie, AfriForum Youth’s National Coordinator for Campuses, the university’s undertaking to 2018’s first-years – that lectures, tutorials, study guides and assessment material (such as examination papers and assignments) would still be provided in Afrikaans for courses that were offered in Afrikaans at time of registration – no longer holds water.
"AfriForum received a number of complaints from students who already in 2018 did not receive these services. The university simply dodges its undertakings with excuses that these lecturers cannot speak Afrikaans, for example. These students are then left to their own devices."
Mboweni’s tweet elicited disparate responses.
EFF leader Julius Malema responded: "But you are becoming too much now, is no longer a joke. Arg (sic)."
Software engineer Anton Roos responded: "Perhaps it's better to have English as the primary language of teaching. I don't use Afrikaans in the work I specialise in. I don't see how Afrikaans will help me attract international business. By all means, keep the language alive but I would not recommend it for tertiary ed..."
Teacher George Makubalo tweeted: "The phasing out of Afrikaans is long overdue. Teaching in Afrikaans privileges Afrikaans speaking students [and] will always carry apartheid baggage. African languages will never be developed as languages of teaching [and] learning in higher education owing to the dominance of English."