The University of South Africa (Unisa) wants staff and students at this university to be able to speak at least one African language. During the past week, Unisa’s management issued a document stating that all staff and students at this institution must learn at least one African language. The university does not consider Afrikaans as an African language.
According to the document, the university aims to “restore cognitive justice through language transformation” by encouraging the language acquisition of African languages. The university wants to implement this strategy by compiling a module where students will acquire basic communication skills in three African languages, namely Nguni, Sesotho and Xitsonga or Tshivenda. The students must then choose one of these languages to learn.
The document also mentions that this module can be used as a prototype to make the remaining official African languages available to students for language acquisition.
The university aims to make all the official African languages available online for multilingual communication in the university environment in three years.
AfriForum now asks that the university renounce this plan or at least add Afrikaans to the list of African languages.
AfriForum has been fighting for years against the introduction of a monolingual English language policy at Unisa. The appeal case against the exclusion of Afrikaans as the official language of teaching at this university was heard in November 2019 and judgment is reserved. According to Bernard Pieters, manager of AfriForum Youth, the fact that Unisa is now making major language adjustments is extremely premature.
“It would make sense to wait for the verdict and then impose new requirements on staff and students, but at least Unisa now admits that its arguments in the lawsuit over the unnecessary and cost of multilingual teaching and communication were wrong, Said Pieters.
Pieters says they are also concerned that the decision by Unisa could create confusion and uncertainty among staff regarding their future at this institution, should they decide not to learn an African language as prescribed by Unisa.
Pieters says AfriForum and AfriForum Youth want to ensure that the language rights of the approximately 90% of South Africans for whom English is not a native language will be taken into account and protected. “The announcement of Unisa is a step in this direction, but then Afrikaans must also be included.”
Unisa did not respond to further inquiries about this document.