Cape Town - Stellenbosch University (SU) says it welcomes a South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) probe into allegations that students at the university are being prevented from communicating in Afrikaans, as the institution's own investigation continues.
SAHRC spokesperson Gushwell Brooks said they had received a number of complaints alleging students are banned from communicating in selected languages, specifically Afrikaans.
“The commission seeks to understand the extent of this alleged prohibition. The ban has allegedly been enforced by prohibiting the use of Afrikaans in private spaces, including residences, bedrooms, digital platforms such as WhatsApp and even on park benches in front of students’ residences.
“The commission’s investigation at this stage relates to alleged violations of a number of rights, including the right to equality on the basis of language, race or any other prohibited ground. Further particulars will be provided in due course,” Brooks said.
The DA earlier this month said they had heard from students from different residences that they were “forbidden from speaking Afrikaans while brushing their teeth in the morning”, while several students have revealed how they were “intimidated” when they complained.
The party launched a petition this week detailing the aim to “protect” the right to mother tongue education at the university against alleged “persistent attacks” by university management, which will be handed to the institution on April 12.
SU spokesperson Martin Viljoen said the university instituted an investigation when the allegations came to light, which continued, and that a process was under way to work towards a common understanding of the Language Policy adopted in 2016.
“The management of SU welcomes the investigation by the SAHRC as well as the opportunity to respond to clear up matters. Via its Division of Student Affairs, the university launched an own investigation, while it also engaged with student leaders in residences on the matter, with a process under way to work towards a common understanding of the Language Policy (2016).
“This included workshops on language policy implementation to empower student leaders and also to ensure adherence to the policy. These workshops also explore ways of promoting multilingualism among students. Importantly, the university is an educational institution and therefore the situation is treated constructively as a learning opportunity. This is critically important in our diverse and multilingual campus community,” he said.
The DA said it welcomed the SAHRC investigation.
DA Constituency Head for Stellenbosch, Leon Schreiber said: “The DA filed the charges with the SAHRC. Our complaint was accompanied by affidavits submitted by various students, which indicated that the ban on Afrikaans extended to at least four different residences across both the Stellenbosch and Tygerberg campuses of SU.
’’Our complaint also asked the SAHRC to investigate the extent to which the university’s 2016 language policy – which abolished Afrikaans as an equal language alongside English – encouraged or otherwise incentivised the alleged human rights violations.’’