Stellenbosch threatens to expell ‘dissident’ students
STUDENTS protesting against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at Stellenbosch University this week could be suspended or expelled, the university said yesterday.
The warning comes after the university launched an investigation into the Open Stellenbosch Collective movement initiated in April.
Students aligned to the collective have stated that the university’s use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in undergraduate classes amounts to exclusion and unfair discrimination against non-Afrikaans speakers.
This week the students said the university was not paying enough attention to their concerns about Afrikaans, and their request for a discussion on the matter with university management had been ignored.
On Monday, in a bid to get the attention of university leaders, students interrupted a political science lecture presented in Afrikaans and English by standing up and waving placards bearing the words “I can’t breathe”.
“Language at Stellenbosch is used as a tool of exclusion, and must be addressed before any meaningful transformation can occur. We are moving forward, and will continue to fight for justice at Stellenbosch,” the students said.
They also occupied the administration building for a few hours before dispersing on Monday.
On Tuesday they protested at the entrance to the administration building, where they were hoping to remind Vice-Chancellor Wim de Villiers of their request for a meeting. They dispersed without seeing him.
The next day the students staged a protest during a career exhibition on campus to highlight their plight to business exhibitors.
Yesterday the university said “actions such as the disruption of a lecture, the sit-in in an administrative building and the disruption of the careers fair on the Rooiplein by the Open Stellenbosch group earlier this week are completely unacceptable”.
“We regard the disruptive behaviour and the related damage to our corporate image in a very serious light,” De Villiers said in a statement, adding that they had decided to not attend an Open Stellenbosch meeting yesterday.
“The inappropriate manner in which management was ‘summoned’ to the meeting is contrary to our value of mutual respect.”
According to the students, the university had accepted a proposal for a public forum on the university’s language policy before the winter break. But this changed at the beginning of the new term, two weeks ago.
A statement by the university then read: “I would like to state unequivocally: our language policy and language plan confirm our approach to individual and institutional multilingualism. On these grounds we shall not engage in an ideological language debate, irrespective of whether pro- or anti-Afrikaans.”
Open Stellenbosch spokeswoman Simone Cupido said the university’s apparent dismissal of their concerns prompted this week’s activities.
“We find it problematic that the university is not prepared to have an ideological debate about the language policy when the use of Afrikaans itself is an ideological stance.”
Cupido said the removal in May of the HF Verwoerd plaque which had adorned one of the university buildings for many years, and the announcement a month later of bursaries for descendants of families moved to make way for the university campus, were facilitated by collective activities.
The university’s language plan states: “This language specification supposes a certain minimum proficiency in both these languages, and is applied to advance the university’s view of the importance of multilingualism.”
However, Cupido said the university was aware that some students were not proficient in Afrikaans.