File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

DA to file case with HRC over some Stellenbosch students ’being denied right to speak Afrikaans’

By IOL Reporter Time of article published Mar 8, 2021

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Cape Town – The University of Stellenbosch has encouraged students to follow the official complaints procedure after allegations in the media that some of them were allegedly denied the right to communicate with each other in Afrikaans – even in the privacy of their own residences.

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said in a statement: ’’It is not University policy that only English be used in residences, that videos that also contain Afrikaans may not be shown or that students are barred from speaking Afrikaans.’’

According to the DA’s Leon Schreiber, students who had complained said the alleged ban only applies to Afrikaans and not to other indigenous languages, and ’’Afrikaans students are therefore forced to speak only English with their fellow students or visitors, even in situations where everyone is Afrikaans-speaking’’.

Schreiber added that, according to one student, some residences even refuse to show videos in which people speak Afrikaans. Other complainants said students are also prohibited from speaking Afrikaans in the gardens of the residences where they live.

A delegation from the DA will visit Stellenbosch this week to consolidate all the complaints to file a case with the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Schreiber said.

The secretary of the pressure group Gelyke Kanse (Equal Opportunities), Danie Rossouw, said he would be willing to assist the HRC were there to be an investigation, Netwerk24 reported. The incidents allegedly occurred at two women’s hostels, Minerva and Irene.

Schreiber added: ’’What's next? That Afrikaans students again have to wear ’I am a donkey because I speak Afrikaans’ around their necks? These reports testify to nothing less than a totalitarian attack on the constitutional rights of Afrikaans speakers.

’’Paragraph 9 (3) of the Bill of Rights explicitly warns that no state institution, including public universities, may discriminate against any person on the basis of language.

’’Although this is the most shocking example so far of SU's contempt for Afrikaans speakers, it is unfortunately nothing new. It is part of a clear pattern of discrimination that began with the abolition of Afrikaans as an equal language of instruction through Rector Wim de Villiers' 2016 language policy.

’’This decision sent a clear signal that SU considers one group of students to be less important. What is happening on campus now - namely that Afrikaans is being banished to the kitchen again - is merely the logical consequences of that original decision.

’’Although the DA launched a series of actions last year against SU's shameless discrimination against Afrikaans speakers, this incident confirms that it is time to fight even harder for the protection of Afrikaans students' constitutional rights.

’’That is why a delegation from the DA will visit Stellenbosch next week to express our support to the students concerned. We will further try to consolidate all the complaints to file a case with the Human Rights Commission.

’’While SU seems to be out to treat Afrikaans students like second-class citizens and to make Afrikaans a kitchen language again, the DA unequivocally stands up for the language rights of every student who chooses to exercise their right to learn in Afrikaans and live.’’

Viljoen's full statement read: ’’Stellenbosch University took note of the complaints mentioned in the media and will obtain more information on the matter while also encouraging students to follow the complaints procedures as specified in the University’s Language Policy (paragraphs 8.4.3 and 8.4.4).

’’It is not University policy that only English be used in residences, that videos that also contain Afrikaans may not be shown or that students are barred from speaking Afrikaans.

’’Our student leaders, including those in the residences, should be commended for showing resilience in transforming the challenge of communal living into opportunities of growth and a celebration of diversity.

’’Not only do our students have different language preferences, they also come from different countries. Not everyone is fluent in each other's languages, but everyone can at least understand English.

’’For these reasons student leaders in residences mostly use English during the welcoming period in formal settings to create an atmosphere of inclusivity and that everyone can understand.

’’This is in line with the Language Policy’s paragraph 7.2.5 that states that in residences and other living environments, language is used in such a way that, where reasonably practicable, no stakeholder is excluded from participating in any formal activities in these environments.

’’If students want to speak any other language in informal activities whilst not excluding someone, it promotes multilingualism – something that the Language Policy aspires to.

’’The essence of our current policy remains as follows: Stellenbosch University (SU) is committed to engagement with knowledge in a diverse society.

’’The Language Policy aims to give effect to section 29(2) of the Constitution in relation to language usage in its academic, administrative, professional and social contexts.

’’The Policy aims to increase equitable access to SU for all students and staff and to facilitate pedagogically sound teaching and learning, and promote multilingualism.’’

IOL

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