OPINION | William Sezoe: Why is Afrikaans and isiXhosa being sidelined at Stellenbosch University?

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DAK Network held demonstrations at Stellenbosch University
DAK Network held demonstrations at Stellenbosch University
Nadine Theron

William Sezoe, a student at Stellenbosch University, argues that Afrikaans as well as isiXhosa needs to be included at Stellenbosch University otherwise it leads to exclusion.


As a future educator who believes in mother-tongue education, and whose mother tongue is Afrikaans, I undoubtedly support the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) inquiry at Stellenbosch University (SU) into allegations that Afrikaans was prohibited at some Matie-spaces earlier this year.

I am, however, concerned about one thing, or should I say one more language as well.

Over the past year, I have also been very vocal on SU’s language policy and how it does not make sense for me to be taught in English while my dream is to teach in the community where I grew up. A community where everyone is Afrikaans speaking. A community where the aunties cook in Afrikaans, hit you in Afrikaans when you are naughty or disrespectful, where the aunties would bake vetkoek or amagwinya in Afrikaans, where the learners are taught in Afrikaans from primary level up until secondary level.

English as medium of instruction

My stance and plea to SU have always been to keep English a medium of instruction at the university. It would not make sense to remove this language. Since yes, it does promote inclusivity in some way – not everyone understands, for example, IsiXhosa, so an expectation of having it as SU’s only primary language would de reckless and ill-informed. But so is the use of just English as well.

Secondly, I have always agreed with others that SU should keep Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. Why, you may ask?

First of all, are we just going to throw away the amount of work it took for this language to get status as a language of teaching and learning, not only on a primary and secondary level but also a higher education level.

READ | Opinion: Stellenbosch university remains committed to inclusive multilingualism

Previously only whites who spoke Afrikaans benefited from this language during the apartheid years. Only they had the privilege to go varsity. Only they had the privilege to become engineers and doctors. And only they had the privilege to study in their mother-tongue language - Afrikaans.

Your coloured of rather brown people did not have this privilege. Although there are two ethnic groups that both speak the language -one group was not allowed to study at SU because of the colour of their skin.

Only later, SU opened its doors for brown people who were and still are the majority in the Western Cape. But they were some sort of invisible Maties. They were not allowed into Matie-residences and spaces. They were not really recognised as Maties because of the colour of their skin.

Therefore, this group of people experienced injustice by both the apartheid government and SU. Some Apartheid laws were even  signed in its Theology building – such a shame. 

Awful experience 

After several years, SU started to redress some of the injustice by renaming some of its buildings, such as the RW Willocks building. But does that really make a difference without apologising to those who were marginalised and discriminated against because of the colour of their skin?

Today SU is again discriminating against brown students, this time not because of the colour of their skin but because of their mother tongue. And it is such a shame that the people who carry the title of transformation heads at Maties turn a blind eye by ignoring this injustice. 

I do not even want to elaborate on the awful experiences I endured when I asked for some of my notes in Afrikaans. I do not even want to elaborate of how some lecturers challenged me in front of more than 200 other students.  

I do not even want to elaborate on how Afrikaans questions in examinations are poorly and directly translated from Google. I do not even want to elaborate on how my fellow brown students have low self-esteem because whenever the lecturer tells them English-only, they stutter like a scratched CD. Some of them do not even come to class anymore, because the English students are silently laughing and making silly remarks about their broken English. 

There is a very low number of brown people at SU. Does the university even care?

No, it does not. It does not even go out to these schools on the Platteland. Instead students are recruited at IEB schools and other English schools in Johannesburg and Durban.

READ | Opinion: Stellenbosch language debate: A response to Leon Schreiber

You can go to SU and do a survey. The results will shock you.

The 2016-language policy did not open doors to previously marginalised students. Yes, it reached more non-white Afrikaans students but brought in more English-speaking white students, so I really do not know how this policy contributed to SU trying to become more inclusive.

Lastly, the movement #OpenStellenbosch must be ashamed of themselves; where are they today? Why did they only fight for an English-only approach? Why did they not rather fight for true multilingualism and multiculturalism? And why did SU’s transformation division support their English-only plea? Why not a multilingual plea?

How could they forget that Afrikaans, English and IsiXhosa is the Western Cape’s official languages? 

And that SU should carry the responsibility to serve these communities, by offering tuition to them in these languages?

I do not see IsiXhosa being used in communique from the varsity – where is the outcry on this? I do not read about how SU is doing research and doing the most to get IsiXhosa as a teaching language and learning on higher education level? What support structures does SU have in place for students whose mother tongue is IsiXhosa and struggling with English?

And where is Blade Nzimande, with his little ill-informed document named, the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education 2020, which does not acknowledge Afrikaans as indigenous? And urges universities to do more for previously marginalised indigenous languages. Does he even really care about indigenous languages and their place on tertiary institutions?  

- William Sezoe is a student at Stellenbosch University and writes in his personal capacity.

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