Human Rights Commission probes 'ban on Afrikaans' at Stellenbosch University

An alleged ban on the use of Afrikaans at Stellenbosch University has reportedly been enforced by prohibiting the use of Afrikaans in private spaces, including residences, bedrooms, digital platforms such as WhatsApp and even on park benches in front of students’ residences. File photo.
An alleged ban on the use of Afrikaans at Stellenbosch University has reportedly been enforced by prohibiting the use of Afrikaans in private spaces, including residences, bedrooms, digital platforms such as WhatsApp and even on park benches in front of students’ residences. File photo.
Image: RODGER BOSCH

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is investigating allegations that Afrikaans has been “banned” in parts of Stellenbosch University.

The commission said it had “received a number of complaints” claiming that students were being prevented from communicating in some languages.

“The complaints received relate specifically to the use of Afrikaans. The commission, however, seeks to understand the extent of this alleged prohibition,” the commission said in a statement.

“The ban has allegedly been enforced by prohibiting the use of Afrikaans in private spaces, including residences, bedrooms, digital platforms such as WhatsApp and even on park benches in front of students’ residences.”

Stellenbosch University said on Friday it had initiated its own investigation into the claims.

The commission said it had written to the rector and vice-chancellor of the university, Prof Wim de Villiers, about the allegations.

“The commission’s investigation at this stage relates to alleged violations of a number of rights, including the right to equality on the basis of language, race or any other prohibited ground,” it added.

University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said: “Stellenbosch University remains committed to multilingualism and for that reason management welcomes the investigation by the SAHRC as well as the opportunity to respond to clear up matters.

“Via its division of student affairs, the university launched its own investigation, while it also engaged with student leaders in residences on the matter, with a process under way to work towards a common understanding of the language policy (2016). This included workshops on language policy implementation to empower student leaders and also to ensure adherence to the policy. These workshops also explore ways of promoting multilingualism among students.

“Importantly, the university is an educational institution and therefore the situation is treated constructively as a learning opportunity. This is critically important in our diverse and multilingual campus community.

“As a sign of how seriously the university takes the matter, it also launched an independent investigation.”

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