Ernst Marais, Naomi Meyer
| Ernst Marais talks to Naomi Meyer about the language debate which once again flared up at the University of Stellenbosch
The language issue is an ongoing debate at the University of Stellenbosch. What is your solution to the problem?
Stellenbosch University (SU) must make a firm pronouncement that it is primarily an Afrikaans university where Afrikaans is the main language of tuition. Section 29(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 affords Afrikaans-speaking people the right to receive tertiary education in the language of their choice. Against this background there is a real demand among Afrikaans young people to receive university education in their mother tongue. Afrikaans is a fully developed academic language and thus completely capable of meeting this demand. Yet the right to receive education in one’s language of choice is also afforded to all other South Africans. Therefore it is necessary also to provide education to non-Afrikaans-speaking students by using technology (in the form of translation services) and through parallel-medium classes. The so-called T option (where a class is presented interchangeably in Afrikaans and English, with a minimum of 50 percent of Afrikaans during the lecture) is currently being employed in 45 percent of all university classes. But this option is not monitored, which means that most T option classes mostly switch to English because of requests by non-Afrikaans-speaking students for lecturers to use more English in the classroom. This phenomenon undermines the position of Afrikaans at SU. Furthermore, according to the 2008 Schlemmer report the majority of both Afrikaans and English students find the T-option to be a very unattractive language model. For these reasons it would be best if SU did away with the T option.
The reason for downscaling Afrikaans is often given as the need for change. Can Afrikaans be a language of transformation?
That depends on your definition of transformation, namely qualitative or quantitative transformation. Afrikaans is capable of being a language of especially qualitative transformation, which is the kind of transformation embodied by our Constitution. In this context the Constitution aims to establish a society based on human dignity, equality and freedom. In this context it is clear that Afrikaans education is central to the human rights and freedoms of the Afrikaans-speaking population. Yet to be fully inclusive and to promote equality it is not possible to have a university that is only (ie 100 percent) Afrikaans. In this sense SU can build bridges and help heal the wounds of the past by also offering education through translation services and parallel-medium classes where necessary and feasible, while at the same time exposing those students with minimal or no knowledge of Afrikaans to the Afrikaans language.
In the past, older alumni protested against the diminishing use of Afrikaans at Stellenbosch University. Do you think younger students care about this issue?
The younger students definitely care about this issue. Most of the young Afrikaans students feel equally strongly about receiving university education in Afrikaans, but they are afraid to admit it because of a fear of being labelled as “politically incorrect”, coupled with the fear of appearing to be backwater- and right-wing-minded if they take a stand for Afrikaans. This is why Jacques du Preez and I, being young Afrikaans people and Maties, decided to drive this pro-Afrikaans motion in which we want SU to afford Afrikaans its rightful place as the main language of tuition at the university.
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