Students at the University of North West’s Potchefstroom campus have expressed mixed reactions over moves to review its language policy.
It currently uses Afrikaans, which leaves mainly black students having to rely on translation provided via headphones by the varsity.
Last week, due to the heightened complaints, the university invited students to sign a petition to express their language preferences before the matter is taken to a full council for ratification and approval.
However, the university was likely to face a court challenge should it change its language policy.
Black students want Afrikaans to be scrapped while white students, mainly Afrikaners, want it to be retained, saying the “majority of students at the Potchefstroom campus were Afrikaans speaking”.
Koketso Kgokong, a second-year human movement science student, said: “My first year was really difficult. I did my high school education in English and when I registered at the university, I was forced to attend the majority of lectures which were in Afrikaans. This made it difficult to listen and concentrate while the lecturer was teaching,” she said.
She said she didn’t study Afrikaans at high school as she only spoke English at home with her parents and siblings, saying “getting here is hard for me to understand and translate English to Afrikaans.”
Jerome Peterson (not his real name) disagrees, saying there was no language barrier and translators were available. He said a possible move to English, as a medium of instruction, was unnecessary.
“It won’t be a good idea. It will be the same as destroying a nation. Why would you have one thing and not different things because more is better than one. English is a universal language but it also helps to have other languages.”
Peterson says Afrikaans works at Pukke because the majority are of students are Afrikaners.
“There are a lot of Afrikaans-speaking people in Potch and it is obvious you are going to get a lot of Afrikaans people on campus.
“If you go to Mahikeng, there are a lot of Tswana-speaking people there. In Potch, if people prefer Afrikaans, that’s okay. But I don’t think there should only be one language for everything. They should even include other languages as well; not just English and Afrikaans, also Tswana and maybe Zulu.”
Peterson’s sentiments were shared by AfriForum’s deputy chief executive Alana Bailey, who said the existing structure of three languages worked across all campuses.
“I hope the university also takes note of the draft language policy for tertiary institutions published by the Department of Higher Education and Training. It warns against undesirability of monolingual public institutions. In other universities, language policy consultations were based on changing to English as a medium of instruction.
“Where numerous national and international experts point out, this is not the way to go, and this draft policy seems to concur. NWU will, hopefully, be a maverick that will retain its current policy that accommodates three languages and focus on empowering all of them more.”
Bailey said a move to English may be detrimental to the varsity.
“When looking at how our universities drop back on international ranking lists, it is obvious that being an English university brings no improvement to the quality of education offered.
“We are continually disempowering 90% of South Africans by only empowering the home language of 10% - the first language English speakers,” Bailey said.
But Thabiso Meko (not his real name) a second-year management science student, was adamant the language policy must change to accommodate black students.
Meko said during his first year, even their orientation, was conducted in Afrikaans.
“We basically live in a country where English is like our first language. We should just use one language were we can all understand each other, which is one basic language.
“With English, we all hear the same message and taught the same way. I’m being taught in Afrikaans but Gert is the only guy that understands in class. What about me?”
The Sunday Independent