The University of Pretoria Phases Out Afrikaans to Be More Inclusive

Students shared their experiences on Twitter

In a decision to be more inclusive, the University of Pretoria will start phasing out Afrikaans as an official medium of instruction on its campuses. The historically Afrikaans UP will start using English as its main language from this year.

According to spokesperson Rikus Delport, the number of students who register Afrikaans as their mother tongue has decreased by 50% between 1992 and 2015. This is what has prompted the change. Delport says this decision will serve to make the campus more inclusive:

“It’s aimed at facilitating social cohesion on the campus. We will continue to encourage multilingualism to foster unity and provide equal opportunities for students of all South African languages. We encourage the practice of assisting students in their home language where possible.”

Students who have registered before 2019 will still be educated in Afrikaans (including lectures, tutorials and assignments), reports EWN, while the new policy of English-only classes will apply to those are register at Tuks this year. Vice-chancellor and Principle professor Tawana Kupe says that lectures, emails and other administration will be in English, but students can speak to each other in whichever language they choose, the Sowetan reports:

“The minute we use two languages people think it is still an Afrikaans university. But now it is just a South African university.” Kupe adds: “There is a lot that still needs to be done because the majority of academics are still white.”

Against the Decision:

Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, expressed his disagreement with this decision on Twitter:

According to News24, AfriForum has also also expressed resistance to this decision:

“AfriForum finds it worrisome that the university, notwithstanding many international research projects and expert opinions, still does not understand that unilingual education, in fact, undermines social cohesion and increases the potential for conflict and student non-performance… If students on campus, in lecture rooms and even in student accommodation only use one language – namely the colonial language English – it amounts to unilingualism, not multilingualism, because there is no room for more languages in the formal university environment.”

For the Decision:

In response to Tito Mboweni’s tweet, twitter-users, including UP students, shared their experiences regarding Afrikaans lectures:


Some history on the issue

Afrikaans is but one of the eleven official South African languages. The other South African languages are not used as official mediums of instruction in higher education. In addition, Afrikaans has a painful colonial legacy and apartheid baggage in South Africa. As Okay Africa reminds us, The 1976 Soweto student uprisings were in response to Black students being forced to be taught in Afrikaans (the language used by the oppressive ruling party at the time). This kind of language policy, skewed to privilege one demographic over another, is still exclusive of many Black students today:

“There have been many stories of black students being told to go study elsewhere if they cannot understand Afrikaans as if it were not their Constitutional right to access education in a language they can understand,” reports Rufaro Samanga of Okay Africa.

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