Stellenbosch university adopts English over Afrikaans after protests

Fri Nov 13, 2015 7:29am EST
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STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (Reuters) - South Africa's University of Stellenbosch has adopted English as the main language on campus, it said on Friday, a historic move after students rebelled against using Afrikaans in education, a language they identify with apartheid.

Tensions at the campus, where then-professor Hendrik Verwoerd helped to define the racial ideology that he later turned into national apartheid policy, boiled over in September as students demanded to be taught in English.

"The primary language of communication and administration at Stellenbosch University will be English, with Afrikaans and IsiXhosa as additional languages," the university said in a statement.

The university's demographics have changed since white minority rule ended in 1994 and now reflect a multi-cultural and multi-lingual campus rather than a predominantly whites-only student body speaking mainly Afrikaans. But the institution persisted in staunchly defending its Afrikaans language policy.

Black, colored and Asian students make up a third of the university's population compared with only a few individuals in 1990.

In bid to accommodate the influx of student who did not have Afrikaans as a first language, the university instituted a dual-language medium featuring some classes in English and Afrikaans.

"At Stellenbosch University we intend using language in a way that is oriented towards engagement with knowledge in a diverse society and to ensure equitable access to learning and teaching opportunities for all students," the university said.

The protests were led by student activists among the "Born Frees" – those born after 1994, with no direct experience of white-minority rule.

"Although it is long overdue, it is only the first step in a broader debate about transformation and decolonization at this campus," said Majaletje Mathume, spokesman for the Open Stellenbosch Collective.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia)

A student (top L) holds up a sign that reads "Listen" during a protest at South Africa's Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, in this picture taken September 1, 2015.  REUTERS/Mike Hutchings