No instruction from Stellenbosch University management prohibiting Afrikaans, independent probe finds

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Prof. Wim de Villiers
Prof. Wim de Villiers
  • An independent forensic report by Deloitte found there was no instruction given by Stellenbosch University management to prohibit the use of Afrikaans.
  • This as the SA Human Rights Commission continues its probe into alleged violation of a number of rights, including the right to equality on the basis of language and race.
  • Deloitte was approached to conduct an independent forensic investigation into complaints relating to Minerva, Irene, and Francie van Zijl residences, and the Capri private student organisation (PSO). 

An independent forensic report by Deloitte has cleared Stellenbosch University management of instructing the prohibition of the use of Afrikaans as well as residence leaders banning communication in the language, the institution announced on Monday.

The report, however, was not released in full, with the university saying it had been marked "confidential".

This as the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) continues its probe into allegations of complaints regarding the alleged violation of a number of rights, including the right to equality on the basis of language and race. 

Hearings by the Chapter 9 institution into claims that students were being prohibited from speaking Afrikaans in private spaces, including residences, bedrooms, on WhatsApp, and on park benches in front of student residences continue in the town over the next two days.

When the university's Rector and Vice-Chancellor Wim de Villiers testified in the first leg of the probe, he maintained that Afrikaans was not banned on the campus and that SU was an "inclusive, multilingual university" with no English-only policy.

At the time, the outcome of the independent probe by Deloitte into what the university called the incorrect application of its language policy had not yet been completed. This as investigators had difficulty in arranging interviews with some of the students involved.

ALSO READ | SAHRC probe into alleged ban on Afrikaans at Stellenbosch University to resume

In a communique to staff and students, deputy Vice-Chancellor of learning and teaching Professor Deresh Ramjugernath said following the allegations, an internal investigation was conducted and that its Centre for Student Communities started engaging with student leaders and students in residences to work, "... towards a common understanding of the Language Policy".

"And as far as we were concerned, the issues were resolved satisfactorily."

Deloitte was approached to conduct an independent forensic investigation into complaints relating to Minerva, Irene, and Francie van Zijl residences and the Capri private student organisation (PSO).

According to the findings, at Minerva, there was no management instruction to prohibit the use of Afrikaans, neither was there a prohibition issued by residence leaders.

"Several house committee members had experienced feelings of exclusion due to the use of language when they had been first years at Minerva, and therefore wanted to make the 2021 welcoming period more inclusive," Ramjugernath said.

"Most newcomers bought into the idea of using English during the welcoming period for the sake of inclusivity, but the extent of the implementation was initially not clearly defined and communicated, which resulted in speculation that the Welcoming Programme was being used to take away Afrikaans language rights."

At Irene, the probe didn't identify evidence to support the alleged prohibition on the use of Afrikaans during the welcoming period, while at Capri, none was found relating to the amaMaties Cluster Day on 6 March.

An official complaint was lodged with the university's Equality Unit (EqU) for an alleged prohibition on the use of Afrikaans at Huis Francie van Zijl on the Tygerberg campus dating back to a period between 2018 and 2020, he said.

"The [unit] had recommended an anonymous survey, which residence leaders had agreed to, but it seems a lack of communication might have led the student who complained to believe that attempts at resolving the matter had been futile."

Ramjugernath said the Deloitte report included recommendations in terms of Minerva and Huis Francie, but that they argued that these warrant wider application at SU.

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"The first of these is that residence leaders should be educated on the SU Language Policy and its implementation in residences, as well as on complaint procedures regarding the use of language," Ramjugernath's communique reads.

"Deloitte also recommended that, for future welcoming periods, residence leaders should specify that the use of a common language is a request for inclusivity and not a command with the intent to subjugate the rights of any other language; define clearly which portions of the Welcoming Programme would be subject to the use of a common language; allow students who feel uncomfortable about speaking English to have their home language translated for the sake of inclusivity; celebrate the use of a common language in building new friendships; [and] inform newcomers of the processes for dealing with complaints and the relevant escalation procedures."

According to the SU Rectorate, it has decided to undertake the development of training programmes on multilingualism and how it should be embodied and practised in residences; as well as sensitivity training regarding exclusionary language and behaviour, amongst others.

"Information about the Language Policy in SU's institutional welcoming booklet will also be expanded. And more frequent reporting from student communities will be initiated."

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