Blade Nzimande’s higher education policy will lead to the eradication of Afrikaans on tertiary level

Adv Anton Alberts

No place in South Africa for a single Afrikaans university. This is one of the worrisome replies that Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, has given in a reply to a question in parliament posed by the FF Plus from which it is now clear that Afrikaans’ days are numbered as a tertiary language of instruction at public institutions, Adv. Anton Alberts, the FF Plus parliamentary spokesperson on higher education says.

In a reply to a question of Adv. Alberts as to how Nzimande will be preventing that the Northwest University at Potchefstroom will not be totally anglicised as was the case with RAU (now the University of Johannesburg), the response was merely that Afrikaans could be used together with another language such as English to give non-Afrikaans speakers access to the university.

Nzimande mentions as example Stellenbosch which now accommodates both English and Afrikaans.

Adv. Alberts says Nzimande’s argument in this regard is interspersed with mistakes and avoids the question as it is known that where a university gives instruction in both English and Afrikaans, English eventually becomes the default language due to the demographic change which occurs at these institutions, as was the case at the RAU.

“The minister is now clearly dropping the charade about the future of Afrikaans. He openly propagates the ANC mantra that the majority governs and that minorities have no rights. He conveniently forgets that Stellenbosch had only chosen the double-medium option last week. I will wager my parliamentary salary that this university will no longer be predominantly Afrikaans within five years.

“The minister in addition shows his absolute ignorance with regards to South Africa’s obligations toward minorities as outlined in Section 27 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights according to which minorities’ rights to be taught in their own language at their own institution have to be supported by the state.

“The ANC’s obsession with transformation which merely means that black domination through English – actually a colonial language – is busy undermining minority’s rights and that the time has come for minorities to stand up and make a place for themselves in this transformation forest in which we were left in 1994.

“The FF Plus therefore fully supports Solidarity’s changing of Academia into a community university.

“The FF Plus will in the interim continue to exhaust all internal remedies regarding the acquisition of minority rights and if we cannot succeed in the South African system, we will increasingly be approaching international bodies regarding the ANC’s constant breaching of their obligations in this regard,” Adv. Alberts says.


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Adv A de W Alberts (FF Plus) to ask the Minister of Higher Education and Training:

1) How will he discharge his constitutional obligation of promoting mother tongue education at each university ;

2) how is he going to guarantee that Afrikaans as medium of instruction will not decline if the Potchefstroom campus of the University of North West is transformed by enrolling more English-speaking students, as has happened with the transformation of the former Rand Afrikaans University into the University of Johannesburg;

3) whether he is seeing to it that his obligations are discharged in respect of minorities and their right to be educated in their mother tongue, as contained in section 27 of the International Agreement on Citizen and Political Rights, to which South Africa is legally bound;

4) whether he is planning to (a) keep at least one Afrikaans university or (b) alternatively create such a university; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details?



1) The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa declares "the official languages of the Republic are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu". The Constitution also states that "the state must take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these [the indigenous] languages" and that all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and be treated equitably", (Section 6 (1), (2) and (4) of the Founding Provisions). The Constitution enjoins the Pan South African Language Board to promote and create conditions for the development and use of these and other languages. This fact is stated so that there is a clear understanding of the obligations for the Minister of Higher Education and Training.

With regard to the provision of languages at institutions of higher learning, Section 29 (2) of the Constitution states that:

"everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable. In order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of this right, the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single medium institutions, taking into account -

a) Equity;

b) Practicability; and

c) The need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices."

All of this informs the work of the Department of Higher Education and Training. It should be noted that nowhere in the Constitution is reference made to the ‘promotion of mother tongue education', nevertheless, this is understood to mean the promotion of all official languages especially indigenous languages that were underdeveloped under the past racially discriminatory laws and practices. In this regard, the Language Policy for Higher Education published in November 2002 is the framework that guides these practices at higher education institutions.

In addition to this policy, there are other mechanisms through which the Department steers institutions towards the development of African languages, such as the allocation of infrastructure and efficiency funds to support the development of facilities for teaching African languages.

In the 2012/13 to 2014/15 infrastructure cycle, R311.654 million was allocated to the category of African Languages, Humanities and Social Sciences. Within this category, approximately R120 million was allocated to various universities for infrastructure projects related to the development of African Languages. In addition, the Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications policy published in the Government Gazette Number 34467 of 15 July 2011 requires all new teachers to be at least conversationally proficient in an African language. Currently, there are twenty-one (21) universities offering initial teacher education that are developing the capability of teachers in African languages and contributing towards the revitalisation of African Languages departments at universities, as well as the teaching of African languages in schools.

My Ministry is mindful of the fact that effective and sustainable teaching of African Languages at universities is dependent on the competency in these languages being developed at the level of schooling, and therefore that all languages should form an integral part of the basic education curriculum. The Department is working in close collaboration with the Department of Basic Education to ensure that there is synergy on this important matter, especially concerning the training of teachers.

2) The Department's role is to implement policies that seek to steer the sector towards transformation and therefore redress the imbalances created by the apartheid system. In line with the Higher Education Act, a university's language policy is and remains the responsibility of the University Council and not of the Minister of Higher Education and Training. University leadership must be mindful that universities in South Africa are national assets that have to be accessible to every South African irrespective of their ethnicity, creed or mother tongue. The Department fully supports Afrikaans as a medium of tuition, however it could be used in addition to another language like English so that access is not denied to non-speakers of Afrikaans. For example, institutions like University of Stellenbosch have progressively introduced English as an additional medium of tuition without compromising Afrikaans as medium of academic expression.

3) The Department holds the view that the development of African languages is tied to social justice, which is an indispensable element of nation building and the promotion of social cohesion in our country. Therefore, the development of all official languages is a necessity for human rights and dignity, access and success at post-school education institutions, preservation of our heritage, communication and culture. I am duty-bound to develop all our languages especially the African indigenous languages given their history of marginalisation. The status quo makes it practically impossible for all South African citizens to be educated in their mother tongue due to the under-development of all indigenous languages. Indigenous languages have not attained a level where the vocabulary is advanced enough to be used as a medium of tuition. It would not be feasible now for the Department to insist that every citizen be taught in their mother tongue. This will be possible once the Pan South African Language Board has created conditions for the development and use of these languages in education. In the meantime, the Department is encouraging higher education institutions to develop and expand the current vocabulary of indigenous languages to high academic standards for delivery of teaching and learning. Once developed, the implementation of these languages as mediums of tuition would have to commence with the basic education system, from the lowest grade, building up to grade 12 and eventually to post-school education and training system. This task will require dedication, skilled personnel, time and substantial financial resources.

4) In responding to this question, the honourable Advocate Alberts is pointed to the following paragraph 15.4. of the Higher Education Language Policy for Higher Education, which deserves citing in its entirety:

"The Ministry acknowledges that Afrikaans as a language of scholarship and science is a national resource. Therefore, it fully supports the retention of Afrikaans as a medium of academic expression and communication in higher education and is committed to ensuring that the capacity of Afrikaans to function as such a medium is not eroded. In this regard, the Ministry endorses the views of the then President, Mr Nelson Mandela, as expressed in his speech to the University of Stellenbosch in 1996, on the occasion of the acceptance of an honorary doctorate that:

"The real issue is not the extermination or preservation of Afrikaans as an academic medium. Rather, the question is this: Amongst ourselves, how are we to negotiate a dispensation for the South African university system that meets the following three criteria? Firstly, that a milieu should be created and maintained for Afrikaans to continue growing as a language of scholarship and science. At the same time, non-speakers of Afrikaans should not be unjustly deprived of access within the system. And moreover, that the use and development of no single language medium should - either intentionally or unintentionally - be made the basis for the furtherance of racial, ethnic or narrowly cultural separation". 25 October 1996”

I share the conviction expressed in the Language Policy for Higher Education that the sustainability of Afrikaans in higher education does not necessarily require the designation of a university as a ‘custodian' of the academic use of the Afrikaans language. Therefore, I neither plan to designate one of the existing universities as an ‘Afrikaans language institution', nor intend to create a university for any other specific language as that would be unconstitutional as explained above.