When the Language of Instruction Is the Medium of Division

Cape Times (South Africa), March 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

When the Language of Instruction Is the Medium of Division


The announcement by Stellenbosch University that it will extend the application of dual-medium instruction brought back memories.

I once worked at the University of Pretoria, where I experienced disguised racism. In one instance, I attended a meeting where my contribution was zero. At the meeting, topics would be introduced in English but everybody would respond in Afrikaans. Even the resolutions were not read out for the benefit of those who did not speak Afrikaans.

Despite this, I do not think anyone had the conscious intention of excluding anyone. However, it seems exclusionary techniques are deeply embedded in the psyche of some of these institutions. Such techniques have become second nature, and we just continue as if the only relevant people are Afrikaans- speakers.

I raise this because language is one of the many techniques used to exclude black people in our institutions. This resolution means an enormous amount of money is committed to the dual-language policy to accommodate Afrikaans speakers, allegedly because they were taught in Afrikaans.

I wonder how much is allocated to support black students from the poorly equipped black schools. Is the preservation of this language more important than helping poor black students? Our institutions should be centres to promote academic excellence and debate, but how do you achieve that if you are linguistically immobilised?

Even on the university's website, the leadership decided not to waste their precious time and resources by writing even a welcome in isiXhosa.

In some institutions I also observed the age-old practice of drawing and waving the so-called "vierkleur" flag. I respect people's freedom of expression but we need not abuse this privilege.

Campaigns for SRCs bring back old wounds. Some of the slogans used are downright racist. Some of the slogans I have seen include "a light in the darkness" and "proudly white", as well as "milky bar".

Perhaps I am making a meal of it, but I do not expect this behaviour. …

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