Amid Racist Criticism, Stellenbosch University Looks To Drop Afrikaans Language

Abena Agyeman-Fisher November 13, 2015


With a documentary going viral criticizing the racist use of White minority language Afrikaans at South African Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosh has announced that they will try to drop the language and replace it with the more commonly used English, reports the BBC.


Stellenbosch University is one of South Africa’s most-elite institutions located in the second-oldest European settlement in Western Cape.

In addition to using Afrikaans as its language of choice — despite the fact that only 13.5 percent of the population speaks it — Stellenbosch is widely known to be the original home of those who created and upheld Apartheid: a number of White supremacists, such as John Vorster, an Apartheid-era prime minister, studied there.

Twenty-one years after Apartheid, many Black South Africans, with the majority speaking Zulu, still feel marginalized by the language.

In August, the documentary “Luister” or “Listen” was posted on YouTube, documenting the racist experiences Black South Africans still face today. In addition, it  proclaimed that “If you don’t speak Afrikaans, you don’t belong [at the university],” according to one interviewee.

Watch “Luister” here:

In response to the documentary, Stellenbosch University has taken steps to drop Afrikaans at their institution. Facebook campaign group “Open Stellenbosch” celebrated Stellenbosch’s decision with the following post Thursday:  

“The doors of learning and culture shall be opened to all”

The Language Policy Has Fallen.

For the last year Open Stellenbosch has been campaigning for equal access to education at Stellenbosch University. We have taken up a struggle that began in 1976 and that black students in this country have waged since that time. We have drawn attention to how Stellenbosch University, the birthplace of the ideology of apartheid, has preserved white supremacy through discriminatory policies and practices.

Open Stellenbosch

We have called for the language policy at the university to be rethought in order to make the institution accessible and welcoming to all who study and work there.

Today, after many months of staged interventions by Open Stellenbosch, and particularly after debates and consultation with us, management announced the university’s agreement to the resolution made by Open Stellenbosch. That is, from the beginning of the 2016 academic year, English will be the primary medium of instruction at Stellenbosch University!

And Stellenbosch University Vice Chancellor Wim de Villiers echoed much of Open Stellenbosch’s sentiments, saying, “Why should the University of Stellenbosch carry the responsibility to protect Afrikaans’s survival? We are a forward-looking institution and our primary function is to create and transfer knowledge.

“In addition, the university is a national asset that strives to be inclusive. Therefore, we cannot have a situation where language restricts access to teaching and learning for certain students.”

A recommendation for the language change will be made during its council meeting on Nov. 30. It is expected to be passed.

A Re-Awakening

Last month, Black South African students came out in their numbers to protest the raising of college tuition by 10 and 12 percent, making education cost prohibitive for many Black students throughout the nation.

The protests spurred the #FeesMustFall hashtag on Twitter. And as students continue to pressure officials about the tuition hike, earlier this month, they even delivered a memorandum to a minister, requesting free tuition.

The Mail & Guardian reports:

…Students handed a memorandum to deputy minister of higher education, Mduduzi Manana, demanding nationwide insourcing at all universities, an explanation for police brutality against protesters, outstanding charges to be withdrawn, and a timeline for free education. Last week Monday, they demanded that Nzimande and [Jacob] Zuma address them today after Manana failed to meet with them to respond to their demands.

Black South African students are pushing for change in a way not seen since the falling of Apartheid in 1994.


Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: June 19, 2018


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