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“Monumentally Stupid” – Eusebius McKaiser on the DA’s Stellenbosch Language Policy Statement

Run Racist RunCould I Vote DA?Eusebius McKaiser, who has just published his third book Run Racist Run, has written an article on the DA’s terse response to Stellenbosch University’s announcement of the proposed change to English the main language of instruction.

The DA criticised the university’s decision on the basis that it seems to be “in contravention of the constitutional principle that every person has the right to be taught in the official language of their choice”.

McKaiser believes that this premise is flawed in a number of ways – it demonstrates a lack of regard for the way black students are affected by Afrikaans teaching; it implicitly assumes Stellenbosch should serve the Afrikaans community; it misunderstands the decision; and, most importantly, it shows an inability to comprehend the task of transformation.

Read the article:

It is unbelievable how monumentally stupid the DA’s statement this past weekend was about the proposed changes in Stellenbosch University’s language policy.

If you missed it, here are the salient facts before we examine the DA’s own goals. Stellenbosch is on the brink of making English officially its main language of instruction, and presumably the main language of the administration of the university.

Afrikaans and isiXhosa are also explicitly proposed to be developed as key supporting languages in the institution, in acknowledgement of the fact that many of the students on campus speak one of these supporting languages at home.

Enters the DA with a gift for its political opponents. The party’s shadow minister of Higher Education, Belinda Bozzoli, released a terse statement telling the university that its new language policy proposal “appears to be in contravention of the constitutional principle that every person has the right to be taught in the official language of their choice… the constitutional rights of Afrikaans-speaking students, therefore, need to be upheld, while those of other students of different backgrounds are also met.”

Let me cut to the chase and state four fatal weaknesses of this DA statement.

First, there is no regard – none whatsoever – in this statement for the way in which the current language policy disadvantages black students at Stellenbosch. The effect of the status quo is that non-Afrikaans students feel less at home at Stellies than Afrikaans students.

This isn’t just a feature of an exclusionary institutional culture in terms of social life at the institution, it is also a form of pedagogical violence because Afrikaans and non-Afrikaans students consequently enjoy different kinds and qualities of education at Stellenbosch.

The DA statement shows no insight into what motivated the proposed new policy. In my new book Run, Racist, Run, I expand an earlier account of what racism consists of. If you show systematic disregard for the interests of other race groups, you are racist, even if the behaviour is not intentional. The DA statement reinforces institutional racism.

Second, the DA shadow minister implicitly assumes that Stellenbosch exists to serve the Afrikaans community. That’s false. It’s a public institution that should be as inclusive as possible rather than privileging any one linguistic group.

The point here being that the DA perpetuates the historical anachronism that Stellenbosch belongs to the Afrikaners. That is a telling subtext that one can read into the foregrounding of Afrikaans students’ constitutional rights and only a waspish reference to other students’ rights.

Third, the DA’s statement is simply wrong in its understanding of the new proposals. Afrikaans is not going to be sidelined. It will simply not be privileged at the expense of the educational needs of thousands of university students not conversant in the language.

The DA’s statement shamefully feeds a false perception that Afrikaans’s very existence depends on Stellenbosch maintaining it as its main language. No language group should be that insecure. Afrikaans will flourish for as long as the language is spoken, read and lived in many other ways by the millions of Afrikaans-speakers in the country.

Lastly, the DA statement sadly betrays an inability to truly get what transformation of our society requires of all of us. Not only is the new language policy proposal not a violation of the rights of Afrikaans students, it can, in fact, enhance the reputation and status of Afrikaans, and the Afrikaans community.

Afrikaans has a horrible history in our country, still labelled as the language of the oppressor by many people – even though it is the mother tongue of some of us who are black. Afrikaans needs to occupy a more comfortable space in multilingual, democratic South Africa.

That place is not one of superiority to other local languages. It should be one of linguistic equality. This new language policy for Stellenbosch truly opens up the possibility of Afrikaans liberating itself from an odious socio-linguistic and political history.

The proposed new language policy is the institutional equivalent of a washing of the feet of victims of apartheid. Or, if you will, the equivalent of Afrikaans coming down from its imagined higher ground, and being made to sit on the floor with other languages as equals, rather than as the baas. It could be much-needed catharsis.

The only people who are mortally upset by the proposed new language policy are people who are not interested in a more just and, therefore, a more inclusive, South Africa.

Let them cry their privileged tears. Let those tears flow from wells of linguistic chauvinism. Do not wipe them. Do not placate the criers. We should rather continue, full steam ahead, with the project of wholly decolonising all spaces in South Africa that remain – structurally and institutionally – poisonously unjust.

The DA should get with the programme, or forget about their dream of capturing significant numbers among black voters.

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