25 May, 2013 10:33

English AND Afrikaans at University?

I was fascinated by an Engineering News article about English and Afrikaans being available to engineering students at Stellenbosch University (SU). This is a reminder that many South Africans would prefer not to have English as the dominant taal. However, it is the language of business, and arguably engineers are best equipped to find work if they are fluent in English and have been taught in English. So what do our Experts think?

Expert views

1. Frans Cronje of the SA Institute of Race Relations

This is an old debate. My view is that market demand needs to lead it. If the state were to use pressure to push the university into English then that would be wrong and we would oppose it. We have, for example, been critical of the University of KZN policy of forcing Zulu in first year. Likewise, if the University of Stellenbosch sought to force students into English, we would oppose that. However, where student demand evolves and the university responds to that, then there is no problem. It is probably indicative of natural economic evolution. Afrikaans will, however, be the poorer for it.

2. Mario Pretorius from Telemasters

Language enforcement gave us the Great Trek, the ’76 riots and more to come. NWU at Potch is accommodating local and international students by simultaneous class translation to English. This is the best current solution. Forcing Natal students into Zulu proficiency as a prelude to all Zulu lectures is short- sighted. Tuks (Pretoria University) has a majority of Black students, probably Setswana speaking. Is the idea to exclude non- native speaking lecturers and students from attending and participating? Goodbye international profile? Language proficiency can at best add flavour to a student’s participation. It will be impossible to gain the proficiency required in 6 months; it would be a step backward to stop translations and revert to a ‘Learn or Lose out’. It would be best to focus on access, cost, efficiency and outcome for young and eager minds needing tertiary training for career preparation.

3. Multi-lingual lawyer Emile Myburgh

When I was at Stellenbosch, our lectures were de-facto bilingual already, and that was 1991 – 1996. The lecturers repeated most of what they had said in Afrikaans in English as well. Exam papers were bilingual in any event, and students could answer the exams in either English or Afrikaans.

4. Duane Newman of Cova Advisory

Any initiative which makes a person’s choice of university larger should be supported. An Afrikaans-medium university could be a barrier to many students. Consideration should be given to using this in the schooling system as well. There are many high quality Afrikaans-medium schools which are not an option to many children, due to the language barrier.


There will always be sensitivities about English, Afrikaans and our other languages. As long as students are receiving top quality tuition and study hard, I have no problem with them being offered an array of language options. We are all richer when we have exposure to more than one language.

Tweet of the Day

Dara O Briain (@daraobriain) There’s nothing I adore more on twitter than people who tweet when you’re offline, wait, and then tweet "See! You have no answer to that"

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