The students at the University of Pretoria are experiencing a culture shock.
The South African university has decided to drop Afrikaans as the official language, switching over to English. According to many students, English is the preferred language while learning. The move has sparked discussion on Twitter from students and non-students alike, talking about the new policy. The Minister of Finance of South Africa, Tio Mboweni, tweeted his disagreement with the move.
I publicly, and in my personal capacity, DISAGREE, with the phasing out of Afrikaans as one of the mediums of teaching at the University of Pretoria. As a country, you are shooting yourselves down. You will regret it in 30 years’ time. pic.twitter.com/qNe43ErSQz
— Tito Mboweni (@tito_mboweni) January 24, 2019
Others chimed in on how they feel as well.
Why is it so hard to grasp that it's unfair to prioritize just ONE of the non-English languages at Universities? It doesn't matter that full Afrikaans curriculums exist. In fact, the reason why Afrikaans curriculums exist is a direct result of Apartheid oppression. Scrap it.
— Pieter Howes (@PieterHowes) January 25, 2019
One day I'm going to ask every single Black student from the University of Pretoria to share their experiences regarding Afrikaans lectures
Some of us started there in 1996, and had to learn Afrikaans by fire by force because our degree majors were only offered in Afrikaans
— IG sindivanzyl (@sindivanzyl) January 25, 2019
Historically, the Afrikaans language policy was used to keep black learners in a country where racism was deeply rooted. The word apartheid is, in fact, an Afrikaans word.
South Africa has 11 different languages spoken throughout the country: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi, Setswana, English, Sesotho, Xitsonga, Siswati, Tshivenda and Ndebele. They were constitutionally recognized in an effort to end institutional racism and come to grips with South Africa’s historical divisions. “In an ideal world we would like all languages to have equal status in teaching, but it’s not practically possible or feasible, so not a lot happens in other languages,” the University of Pretoria’s spokesman said. “The university will still encourage multilingualism. We’ll offer support services to students in their enrolment – where practically possible – in their home language.”
The change started at the start of the year but was set back in 2016 with numerous student protests starting across the region, creating hashtags like #AfrikaansMustFall and #FeesMustFall.
Even though the university is embracing multiple languages, the demand for Afrikaans-language teaching is dropping. Eighty-five percent of students come from Afrikaans-speaking households back in 2016, and only 18 percent of students said they wanted classes in Afrikaans. “Afrikaans will be phased out over time,” the school’s spokesman said. “Students already in the pipeline will still continue getting their classes in Afrikaans.”
Pro-Afrikaner civil rights group AfriForum think otherwise, they even accused the university of lying in its changes to languages policy. “They got it wrong. They associated it with the appointment of the new vice-chancellor – but I don’t know where they got that impression because the change has been coming for some time”. Millions of residents in the country still speak the language but this move is supposed to help others who don’t speak the language still feel welcome, especially in an educational setting.