This morning, the Democratic Alliance (DA) held a public protest outside the office of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande in Pretoria to demand that Nzimande and the ANC national government immediately recognise Afrikaans as a fully-fledged indigenous South African language. Today’s protest follows after months of attempts by the DA to persuade Nzimande to see reason and correct his erroneous classification of Afrikaans as a “foreign” language in his department’s Language Policy Framework for Higher Education Institutions.
But after Nzimande repeatedly refused to heed the DA’s call to include Afrikaans in his department’s definition of African languages, we last month filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and launched a petition to recognise Afrikaans as an indigenous language. During today’s protest, the DA delegation – led by federal leader John Steenhuisen, DA Shadow Minister for Higher Education Chantel King, and DA Shadow Minister for Public Service and Administration Dr. Leon Schreiber – handed the petition, which was signed by over 5 500 people, to Nzimande’s office.
Our petition demands that Nzimande immediately amend his department’s Policy Framework to recognise Afrikaans’ status as an indigenous South African language. The Framework currently only recognises languages belonging to the “Southern Bantu language family” as indigenous, thereby deliberately excluding Afrikaans. This definition is unscientific, contrary to the precedent established by the Constitutional Court’s ruling in the recent Unisa case, and hurtful and hateful towards the diverse Afrikaans-speaking language community.
The insulting classification of Afrikaans as a “foreign” language lays the groundwork for the ANC national government to further erode Afrikaans mother tongue education at public universities. The classification has already been incorporated into the proposed new language policy of Stellenbosch University, which is set to further reduce the status of Afrikaans at one of the last universities with the capacity to provide teaching in the language.
The DA’s petition demands that Nzimande publicly and unconditionally apologises to the Afrikaans-speaking community for the way in which he undermined this community’s constitutional rights to dignity, mother tongue education and equality. After recognising Afrikaans’ rightful status as an indigenous language, the DA’s petition further calls on Nzimande to request all public universities to adapt their language policies to take account of Afrikaans’ status as a full-fledged indigenous language, so that mother tongue instruction in Afrikaans is expanded rather than restricted.
Nzimande’s blatant discrimination against Afrikaans is directly at odds with the unanimous judgement recently delivered by the Constitutional Court in the Unisa case. In a judgement authored by Justice Steven Majiedt, the Court confirmed Afrikaans’ status as an indigenous language and as “one of the cultural treasures of South African national life [and] possibly the most ‘rainbow’ of all South African tongues.”
The Court bemoaned “the misconception that it is ‘the language of whites’ and ‘the language of the oppressor’ [as] an iniquitous portrayal of the language and its true roots.” Majiedt went on to stress that “today, Afrikaans is spoken predominantly by black people. And it is spoken by black people in not only so-called ‘coloured’ townships, but also in many African townships in several regions in this country. It is the language of prince and pauper alike, existing comfortably in academia and the professions on the one hand, and in everyday parlance on the other.”
In contrast to Blade Nzimande and the ANC national government’s ongoing defiance of this ruling, the DA proudly associates ourselves with the view articulated by the Court that Afrikaans is an indigenous South African language. We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to force Nzimande to correct his hateful classification of Afrikaans, and to protect all of our country’s linguistic and cultural treasures from the ANC’s ideological assault on our indigenous languages.
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