Stellenbosch University SRC to discuss Afrikaans row

Stellenbosch University Vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Stellenbosch University Vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 17, 2023


Cape Town - Stellenbosch University’s (SU’s) Student Representative Council (SRC) says it will meet to discuss the South African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC’s) report which found the institution violated the rights of Afrikaans-speaking students, along with vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers’ subsequent apology.

The SAHRC received complaints in March 2021, including from the DA and FF Plus, alleging that during the welcoming period at certain SU residences students were compelled to not speak any language other than English.

The commission found that SU violated the rights of Afrikaans-speaking students with the policy and recommended that SU should, through the office of the rector and vice-chancellor, issue a written public apology to any students who were negatively affected by these policies.

SU said that it had apologised to Afrikaans-speaking students who were affected by the implementation of the English-only policy.

De Villiers said the institution had taken cognisance of the SAHRC report and added that human dignity was non-negotiable at SU and must be respected and upheld.

“SU was disappointed by the incidents that came to light and notes the recommendations of the SAHRC report on language at SU.

“I am on record as having apologised to anyone who may have been negatively affected by these incidents.

SU remains steadfastly committed to advancing human rights, multilingualism and inclusiveness for all its students, staff and stakeholders and is continuously evolving to emphasise this mindset and compliance with the SU language policy.

“I am on record as stating that SU’s multilingual journey is not easy. Mistakes are inevitable and we will learn from them towards charting a progressive multilingual and inclusive South African 21st century university,” he said.

The SRC’s secretary-general, Phiwokuhle Qabaka, said they were aware of the report and the response by the institution, and that the students were still to meet and issue their own response.

“I am speaking as a student from the institution.

“There have been many instances and reports from non-Afrikaans speakers, but now because Afrikaans is in the spotlight the VC is saying something.

It’s just another one of those political mind-games because he’s now between a rock and a hard place,” she said.

DA constituency head in Stellenbosch, Dr Leon Schreiber, said that party had written to the SAHRC that, by saying “anyone who may have been negatively affected” and not “were” as found by chapter 9 constitutional institution, De Villiers was in contempt of the remedial action.

“The use of terms like ‘may’ and ‘if’ in reference to what are now confirmed, factual violations of the human rights of Afrikaans students, indicates that De Villiers still refuses to acknowledge that these incidents ever happened.

“By still denying the violations, De Villiers has failed to comply with the commission’s remedial action and is adding further insult to injury for the victims of his Afrikaans ban,” he said.

The FF Plus said that it also noted the statement and the content thereof.

However, whether the vice-chancellor was on record having apparently apologised or not, the fact remained that there was was a problem at SU regarding the “systematic suppression” of the use of Afrikaans and other indigenous languages in favour of English, the FF Plus said.

Cape Times