DA defends Maties policy

2009-09-03 16:02

Cape Town - Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille staunchly defended the University of Stellenbosch's language policy on Thursday, saying it was justified by demographics and the demand for Afrikaans-medium teaching.

"The question is, is there enough demand for one or two Afrikaans-medium universities? There is more than enough," she told a media briefing where the DA outlined its higher education policy.

Zille stressed that 60% of the population of the Western Cape is Afrikaans-speaking and advised Stellenbosch to draw and foster talented, disadvantaged students from that group.

"The challenge for Stellenbosch University is to identify Afrikaans-speaking students from poor backgrounds who can succeed and to admit them."

Using language to exclude

The university has come under fire from Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, who accuses it of using the constitutional protection of all 11 national languages to remain a white, elitist enclave.

He is on record as saying Stellenbosch "uses language to exclude people".

The DA's higher education spokesperson, Wilmot James, said he saw no reason why the university should not be allowed to "preserve its cultural heritage. The university's language policy in relation to its student pool is about right".

James warned Nzimande that the government "cannot use its funding policy" to force the university to change.

He accused the minister of having spent "three months flying kites" since he took up his post and of failing to put in place a single constructive policy improvement.

Worst scenario

James said the worst scenario for South Africa's education system would be to allow the government to undermine the independence of universities through centralised intervention.

Nzimande has called for a central admission system throughout the country to ensure fairness and said there were discussions last month about transferring the running of Further Education and Training (FET) colleges to his department.

James dismissed the notion, saying though FET colleges must be developed, "the way to do it is not to centralise it".

He argued that autonomy was vital to ensure that higher learning institutions had the freedom and "critical distance from government" to do what serves students and not the short-term interests of the ruling party.

The DA said it would seek to implement its policies on education in the Western Cape, the only province where the party is in power.