Plan to cut Afrikaans campuses

September 21, 2001

A plan to cut the number of South Africa's Afrikaans language universities from five to two has been met with resistance.

If proposals from a government advisory committee are accepted, three institutions will be allowed to continue teaching in Afrikaans, but English will become their primary language of scholarship.

Preliminary suggestions by the committee headed by Jakes Gerwel, former vice-chancellor of the University of the Western Cape and himself a mixed-race Afrikaner, caused outcry after being leaked to the press.

It suggested that only the University of Stellenbosch and the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education should continue to use Afrikaans as their primary language.

Both insist that they will continue primarily to serve the Afrikaans community. More than half of Stellenbosch's Western Cape feeder community are first-language Afrikaans speakers.

The other historically Afrikaans universities - Pretoria, Free State and Rand Afrikaans University - should adopt English as their primary language, the committee concluded. Nothing has been reported about Western Cape, set up for mixed-race Afrikaners under apartheid.

Professor Gerwel said he would not comment on the findings until a report had been submitted to education minister Kader Asmal.

The government believes Afrikaans is a barrier to access for many black students, whose grasp of the language is scant and who want to learn in English.

Afrikaans universities, some of whom have gone to great lengths to become multilingual, are aggrieved that their willingness to adapt has gone unrecognised by Professor Gerwel's committee.

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