Convocation Executive demands dissolution of Stellenbosch University language communication committee

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A part of campus at  Stellenbosch University.
A part of campus at Stellenbosch University.
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  • The Executive Committee of the  Convocation of Stellenbosch University has demanded that the institution's management dissolve its Language Communication Committee. 
  • This followed media reports that a 'whistleblower' claimed the committee was established to counter "fundamentalist" lobbyists funded by "dark forces".  
  • The university's convocation executive is also demanding an apology from management for insinuating that the mostly coloured lobbyists are incapable of speaking up for themselves.

The Executive Committee of the Convocation of Stellenbosch University has demanded that the institution's management dissolve its Language Communication Committee.

This follows weekend media reports in Rapport that a 'whistleblower' claimed the committee was established to counter "fundamentalist" lobbyists funded by "dark forces".

The university's convocation executive is also demanded an apology from the university's management for insinuating that the lobbyists were incapable of speaking for themselves.

READ | Stellenbosch University's revised language policy draws sharp criticism

Stellenbosch University's (SU) convocation is a statutory body of graduates, postgraduate students who completed their undergraduate studies at the university and all full-time and retired academic staff of the university, according to its website.

The university is currently revisiting its language policy in line with a directive to do so every five years.

SU says its “Language Policy advances multilingualism through the use of English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. This is done to increase equitable access, foster an inclusive campus culture and support student success. English and Afrikaans are the main mediums of instruction, with isiXhosa also being developed as an academic language."

The added that they are confident that their students have more choices, broader access and a better future as a result of its approach to language.

The university's  traditional use of Afrikaans as a teaching language came under fire during student protests in 2015 as a barrier to effective learning and the integration of students who do not speak Afrikaans.

Professor Hester Klopper, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for strategy and internationalization in a communique said the committee was established to “provide input and strategic direction to our messaging relating to the implementation and revision of our Language Policy”.

“This is nothing out of the ordinary for large organisations such as universities.”

“The LCC observes how the public debate unfolds, and also considers the perspectives of different role-players and communities of interest, internally and externally. Core themes are then identified, based on which SU can communicate the facts and present its views to enhance the discussion,” she said.

“It is unfortunate, therefore, that the LCC has been framed in the media as a ‘secret propaganda committee’ of some sort. Evidently, this is not the case. The university has a responsibility to communicate clearly, deepen the discussion and engage constructively about language, which is an important issue, and the LCC is a consultative structure to achieve this end.”

According to Rapport, besides the DA, other lobbyists for the Afrikaans language at the campus include DAK Netwerk, which lobbies for the interests of previously disadvantaged Afrikaans-speaking communities.

Another group of activists is Studenteplein, which provides study materials in Afrikaans.

According to Rapport's whistleblower, the committee was set up shortly after a bout of pro-Afrikaans language activism to counter negativity about the revision of the university's language policy.

The whistleblower added that a submission to the committee claimed these pro-Afrikaans language activists were being manipulated and funded by shadowy figures, with the upcoming elections having been a factor.

In a statement, the convocation executive said it was not told about this committee and was alarmed by its reported aims.

Apology

The convocation executive demanded the dissolution of the committee, as well as an apology to Afrikaans language activists accused of being incapable of lobbying for their interests.  

"The convocation committee demands the dissolution of such a committee and the commitment to open cooperation on language issues among the many role players," the statement read.

However, the university's management "invited" the convocation executive to "familiarise themselves with the correct facts".

It said the language communication committee in question was formed to support the university's communication on its language policy implementation and review.

"When it comes to an issue as important as language, the university has a responsibility to communicate clearly, deepen the discussion and make constructive contributions, which could also lead to further engagement with various stakeholders.

"Continuously improving our communication is important to us, and the LCC is a consultative structure to help us achieve this."

SU said the reference to a "whistleblower" on the existence of the committee is "misplaced as the existence and operation of the language communication committee is no secret".

* This story has been updated to include a communique from Professor Hester Klopper as well as to rectify that the comments were made by the executive committee of the convocation of SU.  

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