Afrikaners object to enforced English

July 19, 2002

Afrikaners have protested to the South African government over its decision to "force" English teaching at Afrikaans universities. A leading pressure group has said ministers are making the same mistake as the apartheid state when it imposed Afrikaans on schools, sparking the 1976 Soweto riots.

Education minister Kader Asmal has announced that Afrikaans medium universities - Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Free State and Rand Afrikaans - must implement parallel medium teaching in English, despite a proposal by a government-appointed commission that two Afrikaans universities should be retained to further Afrikaans as an academic language.

The minister, who described Afrikaans instruction in higher education as a "problem" and called on Afrikaners to adapt to the new South Africa, has repeatedly warned Afrikaans institutions not to allow language to obstruct access to students.

Professor Asmal said that the use of Afrikaans at universities was exacerbating "distortions" in participation between race groups: 12 per cent of African and coloured school leavers enter higher education, against 42 per cent for whites, and 37 per cent for Asians.

The Group of 63 has taken up the issue with President Thabo Mbeki. The group views the move as "gross language discrimination", and has warned that the survival of Afrikaans as a public language is under threat.

Group of 63 spokesperson and Hermann Giliomee, professor emeritus at Cape Town University, said they would "take all the necessary steps to ensure that Afrikaans was not replaced as a medium of instruction".

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