There was no instruction by Stellenbosch University (SU) management to prohibit the use of Afrikaans, and neither did residence leaders issue a prohibition on the use of Afrikaans during the welcoming period in March this year.
These are some of the main findings of an independent forensic report by Deloitte, SU's auditors, on the implementation of SU's Language Policy (www.sun.ac.za/language) in the residence environment at the start of the 2021 academic year.
In writing to staff and students today (14 June 2021), Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, said that the University conducted an internal investigation and that the University's Centre for Student Communities started engaging with student leaders and students in residences to work towards a common understanding of the Language Policy as soon as the University became aware of the allegations. “And as far as we were concerned, the issues were resolved satisfactorily."
Given the seriousness with which the University took the allegations, the matter was also referred to Deloitte for an independent forensic investigation. Deloitte investigated complaints relating to the Minerva, Irene and Francie van Zijl residences and the Capri private student organisation (PSO).
The allegations were reported in the media and complaints were subsequently made to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The Commission launched an inquiry, and a hearing was held at STIAS in Stellenbosch on 10 May.
The full statement made at the hearing on 10 May by Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, is available here, and click here for a summary news report on the University's website. The South African Human Rights Commission will continue its inquiry today and tomorrow (14 and 15 June 2021) with another round of hearings in Stellenbosch.
Other findings by Deloitte included that house committee members had experienced feelings of exclusion due to the use of language when they had been first years at Minerva, and therefore wanted to make the 2021 welcoming period more inclusive; and that most newcomers bought into the idea of using English during the welcoming period for the sake of inclusivity, but the extent of the implementation was initially not clearly defined and communicated, which resulted in speculation that the Welcoming Programme was being used to take away Afrikaans language rights.
The Deloitte report also includes recommendations that can be implemented widely at SU. An important recommendation is that there should be more training on the SU Language Policy and its implementation in residences as well as on complaint procedures regarding the use of language.
The SU Rectorate has noted the findings and recommendations of the Deloitte report and decided to undertake the development of training programmes on multilingualism and how it should be embodied and practised in residences; as well as sensitivity training regarding exclusionary language and behaviour, amongst others.
Information about the Language Policy in SU's institutional welcoming booklet will also be expanded. And more frequent reporting from student communities will be initiated.
In his letter, Prof Ramjugernath gives the assurance that the University remains committed to inclusive multilingualism at SU, taking into account the diversity of our society and the wealth inherent in that diversity.
“As the VC said in his submission to the SAHRC on 10 May, we believe that our approach to language provides our students with more choices, broader access and a better future.
“Our student body has demonstrated an ability to resolve difficulties around language, with assistance from our Centre for Student Communities. We want to do even better in managing the complexities and possibilities of multilingualism. SU is a place of learning – we are therefore using this episode to improve the experience that we provide to our students."