Saturday, January 26, 2019

Afrikaans Scrapped From South Africa's Top University

Student protesters hold hands in the protesting against Afrikaans the language of apartheid.
A top South African university has dropped Afrikaans as its official language in favour of English. This came as a constitutional recognition with the advent of democracy to encourage multilingualism in an attempt to help ending the institutional racism. People demanded that South Africa can only heal from its bitter history if  institutions cloud "transform the culture" to make it "truly South African". English is the preferred language of instruction for many in South Africa. 

Afrikaans language policy has historically been used to exclude black learners in a country where racism remains deeply embedded 25 years after white-minority rule ended. The word apartheid, which has now been internationalized and is in the Oxford Dictionary, is in fact an Afrikaans word. The language is still spoken by millions, but it is hoped that this move will make the many more millions who do not speak it feel welcomed in one of the best academic institutions in the country.


Black and non-Afrikaans-speaking students on Twitter have been discussing the new policy, with many sharing the humiliating and alienating treatment they say they were subjected to at the University of Pretoria. One said that black students were intentionally humiliated by Afrikaans-speaking lecturers.

When asked about these testimonies, the University of Pretoria's spokesman Rikus Delport said: "I'm sure there are incidents of that happening. "That's what led to the whole coming together, and saying 'let's decide how we go forward'. It flowed from that." Towards multilingualism South Africa has 11 official languages - Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi, Setswana, English, Sesotho, Xitsonga, Siswati, Tshivenda and Ndebele. 


Students of the Pan African Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) stage a demonstration in Pretoria on 18 October 2017 demand a reform at South African universities / Getty Images.
Demand for Afrikaans-language teaching is falling, according to the University of Pretoria, which says 85% of its students came from Afrikaans-speaking households in 1992, dropping to 30% in 2015. Only 18% of students said they wanted classes in Afrikaans at the last count in 2016. "Afrikaans will be phased out over time," the University of Pretoria's spokesman told the media. "Students already in the pipeline will still continue getting their classes in Afrikaans."Although the changes came into effect at the start of the year, the university says the decision to switch to English was made back in 2016, prompted by high profile student campaigns across the country like #AfrikaansMustFall and #FeesMustFall. That wave of protests also led to English being given equal status as Afrikaans at Stellenbosch University in 2017.

The pro-Afrikaner civil rights group AfriForum opposed the University of Pretoria's proposed reform at the time, and has now accused the university of dishonesty in its changes to languages policy. The university denies this. "They got it wrong. They associated it with [the appointment of] the new vice-chancellor - but I don't know where they got that impression, because the change has been coming for some time". South Africa's finance minister has also waded into the debate, saying people will regret the university's decision to drop Afrikaans in years to come. "It's obvious there are people who differ from us, who don't agree with it - and we have to accept that," the University of Pretoria's spokesman said. "This was a decision made by an extended consultation process over a long period of time, not something that happened overnight."

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