by Josua Loots
THIS piece was originally written in Afrikaans. This is important not only to make clear who my target audience is, but also to show that I am proud of my language and the culture I associate it with.
Somebody recently asked me whether Afrikaners have a future in SA. While I cannot answer the question, my biggest fear is that, with our current attitude, we won’t have a future anywhere in the world. I often stand and watch, with shock and disbelief, how people like Steve Hofmeyr and groups like AfriForum appoint themselves as representatives of an entire group of people, my people, in SA.
But it is only then that I realise that these actions are condoned by the silence of Afrikaners with a different view. The #AfrikaansMustFall protests at the University of Pretoria raise several issues, and it is time for a different Afrikaans perspective to see the light of day.
Over the past few days we have witnessed Afrikaans and nonAfrikaans-speaking students making statements on social media, attacking one another on campuses across the country, and how a situation that initially focused on a language policy of one university inevitably escalated into the racial segregation that goes along with it.
A few years ago, as a new (Afrikaans) student at the University of Pretoria, I asked myself how the institution managed to have only two languages of instruction — Afrikaans and English. Arguments in favour of this approach included that the University of Pretoria was traditionally an Afrikaans institution, and should surely have the right to protect its heritage.
I was further told that Afrikaans is the third ‘biggest’ language in SA, and therefore deserved its place as a language of instruction. Notwithstanding the fact that this argument would probably only hold up in the Western Cape, I wasn’t convinced that a public institution could justify giving Afrikaans special treatment in a tertiary setup.
As an Afrikaans student, with a love for my language, I was very worried about the future of Afrikaans. Ironically, it was one of my Afrikaans lecturers who convinced me that a language was not preserved through formal applications such as using it as a language of instruction, but rather within the home, in the arts and in literature. There is a fine line between preservation and enforcement in this context, and often it is only a matter of perspective.
Where Afrikaans-speakers view the language policy at the University of Pretoria as a well-intended attempt to preserve the language, the other 90% of our population asked themselves why they did not have the option or privilege to receive a tertiary education in their mother tongues.
I want to make one thing very clear, that would explain my constant emphasis on the difference between "public" and "private". There are many differences between public and private institutions, one of which is the receipt and expenditure of public funds. Public funds include taxes paid by me and you, and every other taxpayer regardless of colour, culture or language.
There are very specific guidelines on how public funds should be spent, some of which are prescribed by the South African Constitution and entrenched in the Bill of Rights.
Technicalities aside, one of the overarching objectives is to achieve equality, even in the spending of public funds. It thus follows that a private institution would have more freedom to develop its own policies and decide on how to spend its funds than a public institution of the same nature. The University of Pretoria is a public institution.
I look at the actions of students over the past few days, and I ask myself what the purpose of this is. The #AfrikaansMustFall students have made their demands clear — unless all other South African languages are added as languages of instruction, Afrikaans should be removed. A basic principle of equality.
However, the opposing group, proudly led by AfriForum, is willing to fight for… for what? The survival of Afrikaans? Or the perpetual implementation of a language policy that clearly favours a small part of our population?
I am shocked at how easily students resort to violence to oppose changes that reflect reality. I don’t understand the purpose, the strategy. Take a step back, do some introspection and ask yourself if it is really necessary to resort to violence — not for the survival of our language, but for the unjustifiable privilege to receive public tertiary education in Afrikaans. Are you really acting in the best interest of Afrikaans, and Afrikaners, for generations to come?
There is a famous English quote that reads "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". I am sure that groups such as AfriForum believe in their own twisted, uninformed way that they are indeed acting in the best interest of Afrikaans and Afrikaners.
However, I refuse to be represented by a group that is often associated with racist remarks. I refuse that my language and my culture be defined by shortsighted deeds of exclusion, exception and superiority. If we as Afrikaners and Afrikaans-speakers want to have a future in this country, in any country, we need to learn to admit when we are in the wrong, to play by the rules and to stand up for what is right — not only for ourselves, but for everyone.
While English is not our mother tongue, is does make sense to have it as a language of instruction. Not only is it meaningful given that most work environments operate in English, but it is also common knowledge that it is the language with the least amount of social baggage in the South African context.
It is time for Afrikaners who are serious about the future of Afrikaners, Afrikaans and SA to look into the future, to stand up against radical groups that threaten our existence in self-serving ways, and to become part of this debate in a constructive manner.
• Loots works at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights
This article was originally published here
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