According to a statement made by the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, during his budget debate earlier this week, "… we no longer have Afrikaans or Zulu or Tswana universities. All our universities are South African universities and must serve all the people of this country."
Nzimande is, of course, right. Our universities must serve the people of the country. The question is how they should do so in a manner that best serves our diverse population and that accords most closely with the rights and precepts in our Constitution.
Section 6(4) of the Constitution states that "all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably." How is it equitable then that one language, English, should be imposed on all universities?
Section 6(2) requires "the state to take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of" our indigenous languages. But how is this to be achieved if they are not permitted to develop and flower as full-blown academic languages - and if our one indigenous language - Afrikaans - that has attained this status is neglected to wither on the vine? It was for this reason that the late Prof Jakes Gerwel recommended that our indigenous languages should be developed and championed by various universities.
Section 29(2) states clearly that "everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable. In order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of, this right the state must consider all reasonable alternatives, including single medium institutions, taking into account (a) equity; (b) practicability and (c) the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices."
Nobody is advocating single medium universities or universities that are not open to students of all races. However, it is clearly practicable and equitable that in an Afrikaans majority province such as the Western Cape, at least one the four universities should use Afrikaans as its principal language of tuition - on an entirely non-racial and non-discriminatory basis.
The Constitution also recognises the right of all South Africans "to use the language and to participate in the culture of their choice". But how can this right be assured if the state - in effect - fails to support or recognise the public institutions that are essential for the promotion, preservation and development of all our languages and cultures?
The problem is that Minister Nzimande is not guided primarily by the Constitution but by the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics documents that give form to its National Democratic Revolution. This ideology requires the imposition of demographic representivity on all institutions and facets of society - including our universities - leading inevitably to what the ANC refers to as pervasive "African hegemony".
In the ANC’s analysis, relationships between South Africa’s various populations groups are part of what it terms "the national question". In a 2005 policy document, it observed that "the national question around the world, far from being solved, is raising its head in an unimaginably barbaric manner". It went on to point out that "the lesson for South Africa is that we dare not ignore the national question in our own country".
It then succinctly summarized its own position: "In the South African context, the national question is not principally about the rights of minorities or ethnically motivated grievances. It is, in fact, principally about the liberation of the African people." (The ANC hastened to add that this statement was not intended to diminish the importance of the rights of minorities - but, of course, that is exactly what it does. It relegates them, unconstitutionally, to a distinctly inferior status.)
Elsewhere the ANC states that, in considering "the identity of the South African nation in the making"… "what is required is a continuing battle to assert African hegemony in the context of a multi-cultural and non-racial society." The ANC insists that "the affirmation of our Africanness as a nation has nothing to do with the domination of one culture or language by another - it is recognition of a geographic reality and the awakening of a consciousness which colonialism suppressed". In fact, hegemony has only one meaning: it means domination - and it is irreconcilable with the principles of equality and human dignity upon which our Constitution is founded.
Minster Nzimande’s determination to impose cultural and linguistic uniformity on our universities is unconstitutional. It is also out of step with world-wide best practice in the management of complex multi-cultural societies. As the ANC itself points out: "…we dare not ignore the national question in our own country."
By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation