THEUNS VAN RHYN
It is hard to think that some time ago Tuks was an Afrikaans only university. English students would have to go to Wits or further to complete their tertiary education.
Even Perdeby used to be Afrikaans only, but there was a continuous awareness about the rising presence of English. In the 3 June Perdeby of 1955, a concerned reader writes to the editor about his fears that “sing-songs” were becoming more English.
Perdeby would end up publishling a story titled “Afrikaans én Engels nou plesierig op tuks” 39 years later. It was a rich article about how, not only Tuks, but also other universities like RAU and the University of the Free State had reformed to accommodate English.
The then rector and vice chancellor, Professor Flip Smit, said in the article that it was because of his love for Afrikaans and his wish to let it live on that he did not want to be rigid about the Tuks’s language policy. However, when asked if he thought Tuks would become a bilingual university, he said that he foresaw that it would keep its “Afrikaans character”.
In the same article, Professor Victor Webb, lecturer in language policy at Tuks, said that there is a problem if one talks about a “so-called Afrikaans character” of a university that can be changed by language policy because Afrikaans speakers are not a homogeneous group.
Though Tuks has grown to accommodate a much more diverse studentship, there are still some issues surrounding home language education.
Today, the question of whether Afrikaans will survive at Tuks still remains one of the major contentions on campus. Charl Oberholzer, SRC Chairperson, says that Afrikaans at Tuks has been deteriorating for the past 15 years. “Of the 150 study choices there were, there are only about 14 left that you can study all the way through in Afrikaans. The modules available in Afrikaans decline every year and with that the number of Afrikaans students.” He says that lots of the students feel apathetic towards the situation, because they are told that English is an international language.
“Research done by the UN clearly shows a correlation between a country’s economic strength and the fact that it has a strong presence of home language education. Concepts in subjects like Maths and Science are better understood in one’s home language and ultimately make one more successful,” he adds.
Oberholzer and the SRC met with the Minister of Education, Blade Nzimande, at the end of last year, where they suggested that the formula used to determine how much money each university gets should be adjusted so that those universities that have more languages should get more money to develop those languages.
“The minister has formed a committee which is headed by Cyril Ramaphosa and they are looking at these possibilities. But it has taken far too long already,” said Oberholzer.
One thing remains certian, the language issue will remain at the top of the agenda of the students, management and government, but for now a resolution that makes everyone happy is nowhere in sight.