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  • Die Taalsekretariaat
  • Doelstelling
  • Taalsekretariaat: Gerwel-verslag kommentaar

    Hieronder volg ’n artikel van Gerrit Brand oor die Gerwel-verslag wat in die opvoedkundige bylae van Vrydag, 21 September 2001, se Mail & Guardian gepubliseer is, asook die kommentaar van Andrť van der Walt van die Taalsekretariaat hierop:

    Comment on the draft report of the Gerwel Advisory Committee on Afrikaans in Higher Education

    The draft recommendations of the Gerwel Advisory Committee on Afrikaans in Higher Education have evoked a lot of reaction, both positive and negative, in the Afrikaans community. Yet the other language communities in South Africa do not seem to realise that the recommendations affect them as well.

    The National Plan for Higher Education stated, among other things, that Afrikaans “... continues to act as a barrier to access ...” at some universities. The Minister of Education, Dr Kader Asmal, invited Prof GJ Gerwel to convene a committee to address this issue by advising him on “... ways in which Afrikaans ... can be assured of continued long term maintenance, growth and development as a language of science and scholarship in the higher education system without non-Afrikaans speakers being unfairly denied access within the system”.

    Three aspects of the provisional report deserve praise, because they entrench the vision of a multilingual society, enshrined in our constitution. First, the necessity of the continued existence of at least two predominantly Afrikaans universities (US and PU for CHE) is recognised. Secondly, it is suggested that each of the indigenous African languages be assigned to at least one university, which will have the task of developing it as a language of science and scholarship. Third, it is recognised that the historically English universities should also promote multilingualism in the academy. These three points correspond to a fundamental principle stated in the report, namely that the state should not allow spontaneous language erosion to continue unabated, but should rather prevent such processes by actively protecting and developing all the official languages.

    Unfortunately, these gains are to some extent offset by the committee’s stated assumption that English is to be granted a special status as South African lingua franca. In support of this principle, it is argued that South Africa is “a leading country in the anglophone world”, that English is the key to competitiveness in the global economy, and that it is a “major binding language” in South Africa.

    These arguments are not persuasive. South Africa has economic, historical, cultural, and linguistic ties, not only with the anglophone world, but with many parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. Our indigenous languages give direct access to countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland, where the same or related languages are in use. Moreover, it does not follow from the economic value of proficiency in English that the latter should dominate the other official languages in South Africa. Imagine what the Flemish would say if they were told that French should enjoy a privileged status in Belgium because theirs is “a leading country in the francophone world”, or that French is the key to global competitiveness. Surely, the use of other languages (like Afrikaans in South Africa) has never prevented anyone from learning English? On the contrary, an advanced understanding of one’s mother tongue is a proven prerequisite of acquiring any other language at a sophisticated level, a fact that is often ignored in the South African debate.

    Finally, while English is certainly a “binding language” in South Africa, the same can be said of all eleven official languages. If one keeps in mind that around half of all South Africans understand no English, it will be clear that nation building can never be achieved on the basis of that language alone, for then the “binding” will be highly exclusive and discriminatory. The main issue at stake here is that, whatever the arguments invoked to support a preferential option for English, such an option clearly contravenes the constitution, which states that all official languages shall enjoy “parity of esteem”. The report thus contradicts it own stated principle of actively promoting multilingualism in the spirit of the constitution.

    The practical outcome of this position mirrors the positive elements outlined earlier: First, while Afrikaans is entrenched to some extent in two universities, English is thoroughly entrenched in three historically Afrikaans universities in that those universities “shall” offer all courses in English, while they “may” continue to use Afrikaans as long as it remains feasible. This should be judged against the fact that, of the 22 universities in South Africa, only 6 (including UNISA) are partly Afrikaans, while all the rest are already exclusively English — this, in a country where Afrikaans is the third largest, and English only the fifth largest language.

    Secondly, the “development” of indigenous African languages at designated universities is not required to lead eventually to the use of those languages as media of instruction in the universities. Thus, most black students are left at the permanent disadvantage of having to study in their second or third language. They are also indoctrinated to believe that the cultural products of Africa are not sufficiently elevated to serve as vehicles of higher culture, and that they themselves can only aspire to great things to the extent that they do so in a foreign tongue. This can only contribute further to the colonisation of the African mind and the disempowerment of the non-English majority in South Africa.

    Third, unlike three of the historically Afrikaans universities (RAU, UP and UF), no English university will be required to use any other language as medium of instruction. Thus, the demand that English universities promote multilingualism remains toothless. This raises the more fundamental question of why Afrikaans was identified as a problem, a “barrier to access”, in the first place, while the barrier of English is apparently deemed acceptable. Such a one-sided approach ignores the fact that, at present, only students proficient in English are apparently making it into our higher education system at all. Is our government not concerned about the marginalised millions who do not own the elitist “dompas” of English? Do they not have a right to higher education in their own languages?

    If these recommendations are implemented, the net result would be that the space left open by the enforced retreat of Afrikaans, would be filled, not by the indigenous African languages, but by English, which is already exceedingly privileged in the field of higher education, as in all other fields. This would represent a regress, rather than an advance upon the bilingual policies of the past, since the languages most in need of affirmative support will only be left further behind, with no possibility of ever establishing themselves as equal partners in the public domain. It is time, therefore, that those language communities, as well as all English speaking South Africans who share the constitutional ideal of multilingualism, insist on having a say in this crucial debate.


    US: University of Stellenbosch

    PU for CHE: Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education

    RAU: Rand Afrikaans University

    UP: University of Pretoria

    UF: University of the Free State

    UNISA: University of South Africa)

    Gerrit Brand (Researcher, Translator, Freelance Writer; Department of Philosophy of Religion, Utrecht University, The Netherlands)

    Die Taalsekretariaat betuig sy waardering teenoor die komitee waar die verslag hom na bewering spesifiek uitspreek ten gunste van:

  • veeltaligheid as ’n beginsel wat ook deurgetrek moet word na die vlak van HoŽr Onderwys;
  • die erkenning dat Afrikaans as onderrigmedium by twee aangewese universiteite die primÍre taal van instruksie sal wees, veral op voorgraadse vlak, en dat ’n spesifieke plan van aksie om hieraan uitvoering te gee deur die Minister afgewag word;
  • die standpunt dat Afrikaans as medium van instruksie by UOVS, RAU en die Universiteit van Pretoria sal voortgaan waar en vir solank hulle gewillig is, dit koste-effektief is en die behoefte daarna is. Die bewoording aangaande die rol van Afrikaans aan diť universiteite is vatbaar vir misverstand, wat ons glo nie die bedoeling van die komitee is nie. Die aanbeveling sal beter lees as dit soos volg geformuleer word: “The Minister reaches agreement with the University of the Free State, the Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit and the University of Pretoria that all of their offerings shall be available in Afrikaans while at the same time their right to offer in the medium of English where there is such a demand not be impaired”;

    Die Taalsekretariaat se standpunt is

  • dat Afrikaans as onderrigmedium by die inrigtings volgens ’n bepaalde studentegetal-formule verskans moet word;
  • dat die proses van nasiebou nie gefundeer is op die uitskakeling van die samestellende maatskaplike (etniese) elemente, of die erodering van die samestellende elemente nie, maar juis deur die versterking daarvan;
  • dat die tradisioneel wit Engelse universiteite ’n verantwoordelikheid het om veeltaligheid te promoveer.

    Die Taalsekretariaat spreek die hoop uit dat:

    1. die omvattende plan van aksie, soos vervat in aanbeveling 6, nie die beginsel van die aanbeveling van die komitee — dat die Universiteit van Stellenbosch en die Universiteit van Potchefstroom ’n oorwegend Afrikaans-medium karakter het — sal inhibeer nie;
    2. die Engelstalige wit universiteite gelyktydig met die plan soos in punt 6 aanbeveel, verplig sal word om ’n omvattende plan van aksie aan die Minister voor te lÍ hoedat veeltaligheid by die instellings bevorder sal word, en dat die planne eweneens gemonitor word op ’n ooreengekome basis;
    3. Die verslag van die komitee ook in Afrikaans en ten minste vier swart tale vertaal sal word, veral in die lig van die feit dat sekere voorleggings aan die komitee meertalig was en dat die swart inheemse taalgemeenskappe net soveel belang het by die aanbevelings van die komitee as die van die Afrikaanse taalgemeenskap.
    4. die verskillende taalgemeenskappe of verteenwoordiger uit die gemeenskappe die geleentheid sal kry om die verslag met die Minister te bespreek.

    Die Taalsekretariaat vereenselwig hom nie met die argument dat die rasseprofiel van die samelewing (wat in ’n proses van transformasie is), as norm gebruik word om die studentesamestelling van inrigtings vir HoŽr Onderwys te reflekteer nie.

    AT van der Walt
    Uitvoerende Hoof, Taalsekretariaat
    2 September 2001


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