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Language is an important tool to forge an identity and to create a culture

Busisiwe Radebe *

I am a Setswana-speaking girl. I received my school education in English, attend an Afrikaans university and have received my university teaching in both English and Afrikaans. My opinion on the language debate of the university is not so much about language itself, but about culture. I never once received my education in Setswana, but I have no fears that this will somehow diminish the status of my mother tongue. Being Setswana is who I am, and the existence or lack of a university that is Setswana-medium has never threatened that.

Language is an important tool to forge an identity and to create a culture. I believe the language debate is about trying to rescue and secure the Afrikaans culture. If Afrikaans speakers lived their culture, there would be no need for this fight. Somehow culture should be divorced from outside structures and made internal. An individual can live Afrikaans. In past years Afrikaans culture was artificially brewed through outside sources such as street names, school names and other institutions. These beacons of Afrikaans culture are now disappearing and Afrikaans speakers are afraid that the language will also disappear. The language will never disappear if it is spoken in Afrikaans households. Language is just one aspect of cultural identity; other factors, such as common purpose, common vision and common goals make up the other aspects of a culture.

It is my belief that it is of no consequence to the average student what the university's language policy is. With trying to map out a future most students do not see how this debate has any relevance to them. Students are here for an average of four years and after that they leave Stellenbosch in search of other avenues. The debate is a local debate and has no resonance to the rest of South Africa. The average person in the Northern Cape, for instance, does not even know of the existence of the language debate.

If Stellenbosch University wants to become a world-class university, it should concern itself with world-class issues. The language debate is not a world-class issue and thus should not have place of precedence in this university. Whatever solutions may materialise from the language debate should be implemented as soon as possible and not be dragged on much longer. If this is taken care of, then the university can focus on its real aims.

The main aim of the university should be to produce students that will contribute to the country and make a difference. The language policy should thus be one that will ensure that this will be the case. If Afrikaans is the language that will ensure that this aim is achieved, then Afrikaans should be the medium of instruction. If not, then the university must be willing to change and do what is best for the country. Relevance and world-class standards should take precedence over trying to keep a culture alive and raising the sales of a certain Afrikaans newspaper. The university should examine what it actually wants to achieve.


Busisiwe Radebe* has been at the US for four years and is completing her HonsBComm in Economics. As a previous member of Lydia's hk, she was in charge of diversity.



LitNet: 21 November 2005

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