Language Policy Victory for Open Stellenbosch!
“The doors of learning and culture shall be opened to all” The Language Policy Has Fallen. For the last year Open Stellenbosch has been campaigning for equal access to education at Stellenbosch University. We have taken up a struggle that began in 1976 and that black students in this country have waged since that time. We have drawn attention to how Stellenbosch University, the birthplace of the ideology of apartheid, has preserved white supremacy through discriminatory policies and practices. We have called for the language policy at the university to be rethought in order to make the institution accessible and welcoming to all who study and work there. Today, after many months of staged interventions by Open Stellenbosch, and particularly after debates and consultation with us, management announced the university’s agreement to the resolution made by Open Stellenbosch. That is, from the beginning of the 2016 academic year, English will be the primary medium of instruction at Stellenbosch University! In addition, English will also be the primary mode of communication for the official business of the university. Moreover, management has agreed to our demand to table this decision at the next Council meeting, to be adopted as the official position of the university from here on out. The radical change from instrumentalising Afrikaans as the primary tool for oppression and exclusion, to adopting a language shared by all as the official language, is a significant victory in this struggle for access to education and for social justice in this country. It is also the first step to undoing the cultural monolith that is Stellenbosch, with its excess baggage from apartheid. The university primarily continues to attract historically privileged members of society, in a post-apartheid context, and has remained complicit with structures that perpetuate injustice and racial discord. This is related to the existing institutional culture, which is insensitive to the social manifestations of language and to the importance of transformation as well as the overall project of the de-privatization of education. Although we note with great concern how the Rector, his management team as well as Council, have been uncooperative with respects to transformation and addressing the continuing hegemony of Afrikaner culture, we nevertheless acknowledge and commend the ultimate gestures that lead to this agreement. We celebrate this victory and at the same time we remember those who died for this to become possible in the long years of struggle against apartheid. In particular we remember the students of 1976. Many of the students who were protesting then are workers today, and we stand in solidarity with their struggle to earn a living wage and for their children to have access to the education they were denied. Sadly, the announcement that the language policy at Stellenbosch University has fallen comes in the wake of violent responses to ongoing protests at campuses across the country for fees to fall and for outsourcing to end. Open Stellenbosch stand in solidarity with the ongoing protestors of#UJfeesmustfall & #UWCFeesMustFall and urge their Vice Chancellor’s and management bodies to engage the students and end the current tension and violence on campus. Last night we were witness to how the situation at UWC escalated as a result of the presence of large numbers of heavily armed police officers and private security guards. The situation could have been defused had the Vice Chancellor elected to employ dialogue rather than the threat of violence. For weeks students have been demonstrating and calling for the management of the University to engage with them in open discussions. Instead there have been a number of people injured as a result of the insidious collusion between the state and university machinery, and many students have been traumatised by the violence of the police. A number of students were forced to flee their residences. Among those injured was a security guard who was allegedly assaulted by five students. We condemn the use of violence and call on our comrades to continue to demonstrate peacefully to achieve our goals. At the same time, however, it is critical to draw attention to the conditions that caused this violence. Critics have been quick to accuse students of bringing violence upon themselves. This is a misreading of the situation at UWC and at campuses across the country. Peaceful protest has been criminalised and legitimate demonstrations have been policed and shut down. The right to peaceful protest must be protected and its practices must be encouraged rather than closed down. When legitimate protest is silenced and dissent is met with riot police and the SAPS Tactical Response Unit, it is unsurprising that unarmed protestors will feel threatened. It is difficult to understand the actions of those in positions of leadership at universities who have put their students in harm’s way. So while we celebrate the hard won victory of the fall of the language policy, we must emphasise our refusal to be taken in by victories against the backdrop of these vexed socio-economic and political conditions. #IAmNotStellenbosch, so the fight against racism and white supremacy continues! #FeesHaveNotFallen, so the struggle for free quality education continues! #UWCShutDown #FeesMustFall #EndOutsourcing Amandla!