In a recent opinion piece in Rapport Weekliks, Mr Calumet Links, a lecturer in the Department of Economics, discusses the use of resources in the light of the language debate and asks whose crusade Afrikaans as a medium of instruction is. The article was titled "Wie vind dan regtig baat?" (Who really benefits then?) in Rapport Weekliks.
Whose crusade is this really?
In a recent article in Rapport titled, “Fatale verraad" (Fatal betrayal), Prof Hermann Giliomee, attacked Stellenbosch University commenting on the university management's decisions regarding the position of Afrikaans as a main medium of instruction.
At times the piece almost touches on becoming a Crusade for the preservation of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at the SU – the last true custodian of academic Afrikaans.
Akin to the Reconquista on the Iberian Peninsula where Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon fought fervently to expel the Islamic Moors and establish Spain as a solely Catholic nation. Yet these religious crusades often have many complex layers that need to be picked apart to understand the ultimate motives behind them.
Giliomee's crusade on behalf of Afrikaans at SU is similar in many ways.
Before I continue with my analogy, I have to give some personal background.
I am a young academic working at Stellenbosch University, and I am a so-called coloured – although it's difficult for me to relate to a race designed by the 1950 Population Registration Act.
I am from Namaqualand in the Northern Cape which undoubtedly places me in the category of the mythical Afrikaans coloured, referred to by Giliomee in the aforementioned article. I was also a student at SU and have seen enough to have some knowledge on this issue.
By virtue of this crafted authority I thought I would voice my opinion since it seems other “crusaders" have seen it fit to take up the fight for “us" – the beneficiaries of the SU language policy.
It is important to be aware of the fact that a large portion of my community (I use this term liberally) is poor and despite the fact that in Namaqualand they receive a good quality high school education they are unable to afford to attend Stellenbosch University, which I still deem as quite an elite institution. The majority of coloured Afrikaans speakers who do get to matric will never get to see the beauty of Victoria Street in the autumn or get a quick coffee in the Neelsie – they don't even know that these places exist.
In fact, despite having 71% of coloured school-goers matriculate, less than 10% of these school goers become university graduates.
I do acknowledge that the number of coloured Afrikaans students at SU have increased over the past 20 years, but the language policy really has very little to do with addressing the socio-economic gap between white and coloured Afrikaans speakers.
The solution falls under the gambit of Economics and the South African government – an issue I will not get into at this point.
Let's be honest, as a young academic if I publish in an Afrikaans academic journal who will cite me? If I don't publish and get cited, I perish. This ultimately means my career will stall, at least as an aspiring economist.
In addition, students have been self-opting into English classes, so that often we end up with almost no students in Afrikaans class groups. There has been many a time where I show up to an Afrikaans class venue and am literally left standing solo for the entire 50 minute session. Since students are choosing English as a medium of academic instruction by themselves, we spend a vast amount of resources on translations which effectively only 15–20% of students read.
Ultimately, Afrikaans teaching staff have to carry a larger burden for translation services despite resources being available – translators do an inadequate job since they often do not know the subject-specific language.
The question then becomes who this crusade is for and is there not a better way to use our resources?
What are the crusaders really trying to fight for?
I ask myself this very important, yet unasked question then. If the Afrikaans coloured that is so often put forward in this crusade as the beneficiary of the SU language policy doesn't really benefit and chooses English as a medium of instruction, who does?
Like the stead-fast Isabella and Ferdinand did all those centuries ago, is this some type of battle for prestige or misguided effort for the glory of a language that is very much alive and well in our communities.
Don't get me wrong, I truly respect Prof Giliomee as an academic and like the erstwhile Spanish rulers did for scientific discovery, so he has been a prolific historian.
However, I cannot stand by and see how we are channelling resources to keep Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, where we could use these very funds to get those coloured and black students who could only dream of attending Stellenbosch University the opportunity to do so.
Forgive me if this sounds crass but are we doing a language I love both a disservice here and using it to shield another more hidden agenda?
*Calumet Links is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University