He touched on UP’s current stance on language policy where tuition is in Afrikaans and English. In this regard, he spoke on the institution’s considerations which are based on ideas which include promoting multilingualism and the development of dominant languages within the context of the university. Sepedi is also considered to be a language of dominance. “but to what extent has it been developed at the university?” Prof. Reddy asked. The proposed current situation is that English should be the primary medium of instruction in all lectures. “The university has the responsibility to recognise [equality] and diversity,” Prof. Reddy said. However, the greater weight should fall on the government which, according to him, “has not done much to promote its own language policy”.
Dr Gairoonisa Paleker, a lecturer in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, was asked to speak on the implications of the language policy from a lecturer’s perspective. She began her presentation by providing UP’s language policy historical background.
Since its inception UP was primarily an English university, and switched to an Afrikaans medium in 1932. In 1994 the university switched back to providing tuition in both Afrikaans and English, and in 2010 included Sepedi as a language of communication. From the figures Dr Paleker has seen, “just over 20% of the students at UP attend lectures in Afrikaans”. Dr Paleker said lecturers are often caught in a “schizophrenic bind” in terms of research, where on one hand there is a push toward publishing in international journals, which often improve the university’s ranking. On the other side, there is the consideration of promoting multilingualism.
With regard to the language policy debate, she said “we have lost the plot” as the debate has been polarised with one side calling for Afrikaans Must Fall and the other for Afrikaans Sal Bly. She called for a reframing of the debate, focusing on whether Afrikaans in institutions of higher education is viable. Furthermore, she urged for the discussion to not only be in higher education spaces but for it to infiltrate South Africa as a whole for the country to have a broader debate on multilingualism in higher education institutions.
Sylvia Graham, who is doing her masters in International Relations, gave her perspective of the language policy as “accused number one”, considering that she was one of the #Tuks24 students who were arrested during the Afrikaans Must Fall protest. After highlighting her displeasure at UP’s militarised environment during the protests, Graham gave reference to the June 1976 protests, which saw students revolting against learning in Afrikaans. “Is it not ironic that 40 years later and [more than] 20 years into democracy we are still fighting the same battle?” Graham asked.
The floor was then given the opportunity to give their perspective on the language policy. Jaco Grobbelaar, the head coordinator of Afriforum at UP, stressed that Afriforum does not only push for Afrikaans but for all the other South African languages. “Demoting Afrikaans is not moving forward,” he said, urging the attendees to consider the development of Sepedi as a step in the right direction.
Amla Monareng the EFFSC-UP chairman refuted what Grobbelaar said on the basis of the economic feasibility of a multilingual policy. In addition, he said that all students would then have the right to learn in their mother tongue, which he considered impractical as most of the South African languages are too undeveloped to be used as a medium of instruction at tertiary level.
Anthony Bizos, a lecturer from the Department of Political Sciences, said that the language policy debate is at a “critical juncture” considering its relation to the broader debate of transformation. According to Bizos, the issue of the language policy needs to be “dialogical”, with more arguing and reasoning as opposed to talking on its own. Furthermore, he called for the need to understand institutions and why they display what he called “pathological behaviour” which is rooted in their historical legacies. Bizos urged for the realisation that adaptation is not transformation. In addition he said that in relation to the language policy, diversity and multiculturalism has the potential to create hierarchies of power. He touched on the dangers of the “calculus approach” in dealing with the language policy. “It assumes the presence of winners and losers,” he said, adding that the majority is not always right.
From a sociological view, questions on how the university will represent the broader society need to be asked for the institution to be a “healthy microcosm,” he said. Ultimately, he said that language, in relation to the bigger picture of transformation, has the capacity to change our interests and what we consider to be our identities.