The Democratic Alliance (DA) will this week launch a court case against the management of Stellenbosch University (SU), led by rector Wim de Villiers. The DA is armed with evidence against De Villiers that we carefully collected over the past few months, as well as with the positive precedent set by the Constitutional Court’s recent judgement in the UNISA case.
Our application will request the Cape High Court to declare SU’s effort to use the Covid pandemic as an excuse to finally do away entirely with the provision of learning material to Afrikaans students as illegal, invalid and unconstitutional.
The DA’s case encompasses four aspects:
1. The DA, in cooperation with students at SU, have recently gathered new evidence showing that SU was so eager to abuse the Covid pandemic to do away with Afrikaans that the university violated its own language policy. The policy makes it clear that deviations from the requirement that all teaching materials should be made available in both Afrikaans and English is only permissible if individual faculties request and motivate for such a deviation. Even though SU initially pretended that the deviation was made upon request of individual faculties, the DA has determined that not a single faculty ever requested such a deviation. The executive committee of the SU Senate – chaired by De Villiers – thus violated SU’s own language policy to do away with Afrikaans, and then lied about it to try and cover their tracks.
2. But the deception does not end there. On 23 March, SU released a statement saying that “It is important to note that this decision only applies to the first semester of 2021, specifically due to the additional workload caused by the shift to more online tuition because of Covid-19.” But SU’s response to a subsequent request submitted in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) revealed that the deviation continues unabated during the current semester. While SU tried to deceive the Afrikaans community with the suggestion that the deviation would only apply to one semester, it has now been in for four semester – with no end in sight.
3. SU’s eagerness to use Covid and the shift to distance-learning as an excuse to do away with Afrikaans also violates the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling in the UNISA case. In that ruling, the court made it clear that there is a greater requirement on public universities to offer multilingual teaching under conditions of distance learning, because no student is excluded. Instead of using the shift to distance learning due to Covid as an excuse to do away with Afrikaans, the UNISA ruling implies that SU was actually compelled to do the exact opposite by expanding the Afrikaans offering.
4. Various students will also submit statements to the court indicating that in some SU faculties, Afrikaans is no longer used at all during lectures that are supposed to use both Afrikaans and English. This is the logical consequences of the message sent to SU lecturers through De Villiers’ effort to abuse the Covid pandemic to finally do away with Afrikaans completely at SU.
As the leading political champion of language rights of all South Africans, the DA will not allow De Villiers and his fellow travellers to get away with this. It is high time that De Villiers is held accountable for the manner in which he has consistently stomped on the right of the big and diverse Afrikaans-speaking community.
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