Panyaza Lesufi: A language-based university is anathema to our society and a disgrace to our Constitution

Panyaza Lesufi, MEC of Education in Gauteng.
Panyaza Lesufi, MEC of Education in Gauteng.
Gallo Images

I am sustained by my conviction that non racialism is not wrong. I am sustained by my conviction that we are better off together than being a divided nation, writes Panyaza Lesufi.

Is there room for a language-based university? Should a language be used to perpetuate racist agendas? Just when a university is supposed to be a leveller in our society, an institution that closes the gap between the rich and the poor, should we unearth another form of racism by allowing an Afrikaans-only university?

The answer is: No ways! I and many South Africans are not opposed to the Afrikaans, Afrikaner culture and its trappings. But we will never support those who want to hijack this language, just like they did during the dark days of apartheid, to conceal their hatred of a democratic South Africa.

To make matters worse those involved in building this Afrikaans only university have a horrible history of anti-transformation. They defend the apartheid flag, support the music of Steve Hofmeyr, despise affirmative action and only represent Afrikaans speakers in labour disputes and challenge any promotion of blacks in labour matters.

The post-apartheid education policy is based on the constitution, and among its objectives are the redressing of past imbalances and the addressing of education based on race.

Excising apartheid education's most blatant excesses

The democratic government's most dramatic stride toward equalising institutions of learning by dismantling 15 distinct departments of education and creating a single non-racially based one came in the early heady days of democracy.

Our goal was straightforward and attainable. We wanted to excise the most blatant excesses of apartheid education by officially doing away with racially divided institutions of learning and a white-supremacist curriculum.

Over 25 years into our democratic dispensation, any school district, university or tertiary institution that wishes to short-change students is anathema to our society and a disgrace to the constitution of the republic.

For me it is a historical principle? I am Member of Executive Council (MEC) for Education because of Beyers Naude, a man of the cloth who was rejected by his people and expelled by an Afrikaans only church, the Dutch Reformed Church or "NGK" Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk, just because he wanted it to open its doors to all South Africans. He believed that we must live together as South Africans.

My relationship with "Oom Bey" began during the state of emergency of 1988 when I was detained without trial at Modderbee prison for leading a class boycott against apartheid education.

After my release, in a letter written in Afrikaans, my school was instructed to expel me and other student leaders. With a possible bleak future, the thought of going to exile to join Umkhonto we Sizwe lingered in my mind. That was until someone told me about this progressive Afrikaner, Beyers Naude, then secretary general of the South African Council of Churches

When I met him, even before I could end narrating my story he authorised that I be granted a bursary to enrol at a school associated with his church so that I can conclude my then Matric, now National Senior Certificate, and later went to go and study at the University of Natal.

Imagine if "Oom Bey" would have told me that he was only assisting Afrikaners to access education. Where will this Sepedi speaking boy be today? I will surely not be an MEC for education.

Desecrating the graves of people like Beyers Naude

So, should l betray the soul of Uncle Beyers when those with deep pockets want to build a language based university in the sea of inequality and poverty and the ticket to enter this university is that you must speak Afrikaans or else you don't qualify? No ways!

Lest we forget that this Afrikaans only university was conceived soon after the Constitutional Court saw nothing wrong with the universities of South Africa, Pretoria, Free State, Stellenbosch and Potchefstroom, in changing their language policies to accommodate all South Africans.

Instead of supporting the apex court, they angrily decided to use their apartheid acquired wealth and skills to desecrate the graves of people like Beyers Naude who believed in an all-inclusive South Africa.

It is a pity that even under a democratic state, we are still being insulted and the overwhelming majority of our people, still live in squalor, not out of their own making but because of the historic injustices of apartheid education.

It is those living in informal settlements and rural areas without skills that need this university. But they will be excluded because they do not speak Afrikaans.

Indeed, we will be defeating Reverend Naude and former president Nelson Mandela's ideals if we don't work together to collectively defeat poverty, inequality and unemployment but are obsessed with language-based institutions.

No one is born poor but it is the conditions that they are born in that shape and sharpen their economic status. We were born under apartheid that denied us and our parents equal education.

No one is born hating another

The truth is, institutions that vigorously support this university do not have a history of social cohesion but are divisive and support racist flags, hate black economic empowerment and affirmative action, glorify Hendrik Verwoerd and his ilk.

Let us heed President Mandela's inspirational advice when he said: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

The future South Africa we want must include everyone not exclude others. I am sustained by my conviction that non racialism is not wrong. I am sustained by my conviction that we are better off together than being a divided nation.

So the insults that I am a racist will not stick. I fought for non-racialism even when racism was unleashed with brutality and revenge will have been a better and easy option.

I have since taken Afrikaans lessons to demonstrate that I am not against the language. My daughter also went to an Afrikaans school that accommodated other languages. So the shallow calls that I hate Afrikaans are baseless and meaningless.

Indeed, to forgive apartheid beneficiaries for their sins should not be equated to stupidity but with the fact that we sacrificed our happiness so that our country, not a language, should prosper.

I fully support multilingualism where all languages are protected and developed not only the language of the haves and the rich, while the have nots and the poor can only be taken care by the state.

The opening of this language-based university, especially a language that was used to oppress us, is not good for the future of our country.

Just imagine if we were to render services on the basis of who speaks which language than who is South African? God help us all.

- Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.