Stellenbosch University (SU) takes cognisance of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Report on language in SU residences. “Human dignity is non-negotiable at SU and must be respected and upheld. SU was disappointed by the incidences that came to light and notes the recommendations of the SAHRC report on language at SU. I am on record as having apologised to anyone who may have been negatively affected by these incidences. SU remains steadfastly committed to advancing human rights, multilingualism and inclusiveness for all its students, staff and stakeholders and are continuously evolving to emphasise this mindset and compliance with the SU Language Policy (2021)".
This is the response of Prof Wim de Villiers, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor, to the findings by the SAHRC in the matter pertaining to claims that there was a prohibition on the use of Afrikaans in certain SU residences during the 2021 welcoming period.
SU notes that the Commission states that the 2016 Language Policy [the previous Language Policy] would not allow any student to be prohibited from speaking their language of choice in residences. Furthermore, according to the SAHRC report, there is not “a blatant and concentrated ban on Afrikaans inspired and motivated by a concerted effort from the Respondent [SU] and certain individuals in university management to eradicate Afrikaans from SU."
Notwithstanding this, in his apology, the Rector noted that “if there were students who were instructed not to use Afrikaans in a social context, “it is wrong", it was not the policy of the university, and that SU is committed to an ongoing investigation and rectification process. Many positive actions aligned with the remedial actions recommended by the Commission have already been undertaken, such as emphasising that in the spirit of multilingualism there should be no prohibition on the use of any language including Afrikaans. Further planned actions include ongoing training for residence heads and student leaders that are in line with the remedial actions in the report.
“I am on record as stating that SU's multilingual journey is not easy. Mistakes are inevitable and we will learn from them towards charting a progressive multilingual and inclusive South African 21st century university. Within this context the University has already acted since the first reports about the use of language in a particular residence that came to the fore in 2021 – as was acknowledged by the Commission," says Prof De Villiers.
“This, together with other initiatives that the University is currently offering to enhance the welcoming and inclusive nature of our institution, will go a long way in safeguarding the rights and privileges of all our stakeholders," says Prof De Villiers.
“SU recognises that transformation is multifaceted and for it to be embedded, systemic and effective, it needs to be addressed in a multifaceted manner. It has been an ongoing journey for past two decades. This process is messy, difficult and asks for self-reflection. We will continue this journey and when and where necessary, focus on closing the gap between policy and practice, commitments and lived experiences. Our aim is to continue to contribute to solutions to the betterment of society."
The various aspects of transformation which SU addresses, include structural transformation; an emphasis on values; institutional culture; policies and plans; the student and human resources profile; research and social impact; partnerships; and the health and wellbeing of staff and students.
Prof Deresh Ramjugernath, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, echoed Prof De Villiers' sentiments: “While we don't necessarily agree with all the factual findings of the report at this early stage, the University will now consider the Commission's findings, proposed remedial actions and recommendations in detail and also consider its actions going forward."
He added: “SU is acutely aware of the importance of student leaders being informed about the Language Policy and the use of language on campus, residences and social spaces. The Commission's interpretation of how events unfolded and how language is used in residences are noted as we continuously evaluate the use of language across the campus, as well as in mproving the language policy implementation".
Read the SAHRC report
Photo: Anton Jordaan