The ANC is no doubt delighted and amused by the spectacle of all these good people falling over themselves to implement the ideological approach of their National Democratic Revolution.

However, like the capitalist rope sellers, the medium and long-term prospects of these well-meaning people are not too good. The ANC wants demographic representivity – and it wants it as soon as possible. It does not want any institution in the public sphere where minorities – on a non-racial, and non-exclusionary basis – will predominate. It wants all public institutions to be subjected to African hegemony.

This means that the student bodies, the faculties and the management of the former Afrikaans universities will be required to represent the national demographic profile as soon as possible. There will no longer be any place for the overwhelming majority of all those well-meaning white Afrikaans-speaking academics, managers and council members. Having surrendered the autonomy of their universities they will be dispensed with as soon as practicable.

Neither will the ANC show any greater interest in what they regard as Eurocentric standards of academic excellence – than they have in maintaining standards of excellence anywhere else. Why should anyone have any illusions that these once fine universities will quite soon follow our other universities into accelerating decline?

On the other hand, there are many Afrikaners – probably a majority – for whom their language, together with their religion and their culture, is an integral part of their identity as human beings.

In fact, the Constitution is quite clear on many of these questions:

The state and publicly funded institutions like universities have a duty to uphold and facilitate all these rights. In particular, they have a duty to ensure that “everyone has a right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonable practicable.”

Clearly it is practicable to do so at universities that have traditionally offered tuition in Afrikaans – especially in the Western Cape where Afrikaans is the principal language.

Afrikaans-speakers will have every reason to call the government and the institutions involved to account if they fail to address their rights in terms of section 29(2).

It is equally important to take into account the need to redress the results of past racial discriminatory laws and practices. In this regard it is essential that the tertiary education system should address the needs of Coloured South Africans who have the lowest university participation rate of any community in South Africa. The needs of disadvantaged black and Coloured English-speaking students in the Western Cape are adequately addressed by the other three universities in the province that offer tuition solely in English – but there is no provision for disadvantaged Coloured Afrikaans-speakers – particularly those from the rural areas of the Western Cape.

Ironically, English is not being used primarily to accommodate the needs of disadvantaged black and Coloured English-speakers – but those of relatively advantaged white English-speakers who have come to Stellenbosch from other parts of South Africa.

We should reject the idea that Afrikaans, the predominant language in the Western Cape, can be regarded as a language of exclusion – and also reject the unconstitutional notion that English has somehow or other become the sole unofficial national language – and the default language of inclusion. Clearly, for many Afrikaans-speaking university candidates and candidates who speak other indigenous languages, it may well be a language of exclusion.

We should also reject the insidious notion present in many aspects of the current debate that Afrikaans is somehow or other tainted by the past and that its speakers and their cultures and traditions occupy an inferior moral position. Such ideas undermine the foundational right of Afrikaans-speakers to human dignity – the value from which all other constitutional values flow.

The management of the remaining universities where Afrikaans is still a language of tuition should also bear in mind the practical consideration of whether or not they want to alienate a significant portion of their support base – and perhaps the overwhelming base for funding and donations.

The issue at stake is whether South Africa will develop as a multilingual and multicultural society with linguistically and culturally diverse institutions – as required by the Constitution – or whether the global language English – and African hegemony – will be imposed on everyone in accordance with the demographic representivity ideology of the ruling Alliance. The issue also relates to the future of academic excellence: we can be quite sure that if demographic representivity is imposed on our universities it will not last for long.

By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation

Photo credit: Carsten aus Bonn via / CC BY-ND