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ARTICLE: BLADE NZIMANDE’S UNCONSTITUTIONAL CAMPAIGN TO ELIMINATE AFRIKAANS AS A UNIVERSITY LANGUAGE

nzimande-foterAccording to “Rapport” of 30 November 2014, the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, has threatened to withdraw the registration of the private university, Akademia, if its language of tuition remains exclusively Afrikaans.

The University was established in 2012 by the trade union Solidarity with Afrikaans as the only language of tuition.

He said that he would not allow a university to refuse admission to any student who wishes to study there “even on the grounds of language”. He added that there was no place “for racist institutions” and that “we will not allow such an institution.” 

He repeated his view that he “wants universities to reflect a rainbow nation, with admission guaranteed, regardless of language”. He insisted that he was not opposed to Afrikaans as a language and said that “it is our own language. We do not want to destroy it.”

The Minister’s views are in line with a statement that he made during his budget debate in parliament in July this year when he said that “there is no longer any such thing as Afrikaans, Zulu or Tswana universities”. “All the universities in our country are South African universities and they must serve the people of the country.” His views also accord with the increasingly insistent calls that the student bodies and faculties of all South Africa’s universities should reflect the demographic composition of the population as a whole.

Dr Nzimande’s approach has its roots - not in the Constitution - but in the SACP/ANC ideology of the National Democratic Revolution - and more specifically in what it calls “the National Question” (which deals with the relations between South Africa’s different population groups).

In a 2005 policy document, the ANC stated that  “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.” 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.

In Dr Nzimande’s idea of “a rainbow nation” minorities would, for all practical purposes, be subjected to the domination of the majority in virtually every aspect of their lives - in their jobs, in their schools and in their universities.

He says that he is not opposed to Afrikaans and does not want to destroy it.  However, as he probably knows, that would be the likely outcome of the policy that he is pursuing.  Experience throughout the world has shown that wherever regional languages are forced to compete with a world language like English in educational institutions, the regional language is soon extinguished. This process is already well under way at all South Africa’s former Afrikaans language universities. However, if Afrikaans loses its status as a university language there will inevitably be a knock-on effect for Afrikaans schools and for Afrikaans media. Where will future Afrikaans language teachers and journalists be trained? Afrikaans is already rapidly being eclipsed as a language of business.

All this is irreconcilable with the Constitution’s protection of language diversity and multiculturalism.

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.

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 - prohibits public and private cultural and educational institutions that are essential for the promotion, preservation and development of all our languages and cultures?

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 so doing “the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives including single-medium institutions...”

In terms of section 29(3) “everyone has the right to establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational institutions that a) do not discriminate on the basis of race; b) are registered with the state; and c) maintain standards that are not inferior to comparable public educational institutions.” Clearly, Akademia complies with all these requirements.

Nzimande’s equation of Afrikaans single-medium education with racism is absurd: according to the ATKV only 40% of South Africans who speak Afrikaans as their home language are white; 50% are coloured; 9% are black and 1% are Indian. 

What Nzimande is telling Afrikaans-speaking South Africans is that he intends to deny them their constitutional right to education in the language of their choice and to establish private non-racial educational institutions. By so-doing he comes close to negating Nelson Mandela’s solemn undertaking that “never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”  

Nzimande’s approach is out of step with worldwide best practice in the management of complex multicultural societies; it is intolerant of diversity - and will further divide South Africans along the lines of race and language. 

By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation

 Photo credit: GovernmentZA / FoterCC BY-ND

For comment on statement:

Dave Steward: Executive Director, FW de Klerk Foundation
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