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News24.com | Afrikaans, Xhosa are 'decorations': Stellenbosch University student body slams new language policy

Student organisation StudentePlein labelled Stellenbosch University's new language policy as "an English university, with Afrikaans and Xhosa decorations on top". 

Approved by its council on Thursday, the university's language policy will come into effect in January.

The new policy "emphasises institutional, but also individual multilingualism, which must lead to a personal attitude towards multilingualism", university spokesperson Martin Viljoen told News24.

"It is, therefore, a multilingualism that speaks not only to the mind, but also to the heart. It is also reflected in translanguaging – the use of languages in spaces where people can use different languages and where there is spontaneous and informal interpretation amid mutual respect and tolerance for different language skills," he said.

The use of Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa – the three main languages in the province - is aligned with the Language Policy Framework for Public Higher Education Institutions, which describes, among others, the promotion of African languages, Viljoen added.

He said:

The new Language Policy also defines the flexible use of languages. Support is created for the use of Afrikaans and English in the academic environment through a combination of facilitated learning opportunities for students in lectures, tutorials and practicals.

"Furthermore, all official institutional communication will henceforth be done not only in Afrikaans and English, but isiXhosa will also be phased in."

According to Viljoen, the university "remains committed to Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in an inclusive, multilingual context – one of very few higher education institutions in our multilingual country following this approach".

StudentePlein, which represents Afrikaans members in nine of the university's faculties, however, said it rejected the policy, which "represents a continuation of an English university, with Afrikaans and Xhosa decorations on top", brought about by the 2016 language policy.

READ | DA, student organisation want court to declare Stellenbosch University language policy 'unlawful'

"The normative commitments to an Afrikaans offer in the preamble to the new Language Policy do not manifest at all in its operational terms, which are still largely based on student demand, staff availability and available resources. Language implementation is also made subject to what is 'reasonably practicable' in 16 different places in the new policy – but only when it comes to Afrikaans and Xhosa," the organisation said in a statement.

"When it comes to English, there are no qualifications."

The policy also failed to make provision for proper accountability mechanisms when it came to language implementation, StudentePlein argued.

The group has been at the forefront of language-related contentions at the university, including complaints which reached the SA Human Rights Commission, that students were being prohibited from speaking Afrikaans in private spaces, including residences, bedrooms, on WhatsApp and on park benches in front of residences.

In June, an independent forensic report by Deloitte cleared university management of instructing the prohibition of the use of Afrikaans as well as residence leaders banning communication in the language.

Viljoen said the policy states the university's "commitment to engagement with knowledge in a diverse society", as it aims to increase equitable access for all students and staff, promote multilingualism and its appreciation, while facilitating "pedagogically sound learning and teaching".

The policy states: 

Afrikaans is an internationally respected language that has developed a substantial academic repertoire across a variety of disciplines, to which SU has contributed significantly, and continues to contribute.

According to the policy, Afrikaans and English are the institution's primary languages of learning and teaching, but "translanguaging in multiple languages is encouraged to support and enhance learning".

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