Tongue tide

August 4, 2000

Your correspondent ("Losing a language to repair the past", THES, July 21) suggests that Afrikaans universities are subjected to ideological and political pressures to introduce teaching in English.

Reality is more complicated. Two of the three main Afrikaans universities in South Africa embraced bilingual instruction in the early 1990s, before the accession of Nelson Mandela's government. They did this so that they could recruit middle-class, fee-paying English-speaking students as the student demography at the principal English universities became predominantly black and working class.

In the Western Cape historically,"coloureds generally attended the University of the Western Cape" not out of choice but because it was a racially designated institution. In fact, teaching at UWC was officially bilingual until the university began admitting significant numbers of black students in 1988. Enrolment of coloured students at the University of Cape Town accelerated thereafter. Class and racial prejudices probably have more to do with the shifting patterns of student enrolment than with linguistic preferences. Your correspondent is correct, though, in identifying a crisis in language studies in South Africa. At my university we are about to close the Afrikaans department after a decline in its student recruitment to single figures. The "African renaissance" of Nelson Mandela's "Rainbow Nation" is most likely to be conducted in English.

Tom Lodge

Professor of political studies University of the Wi****ersrand

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