Afrikaans-in-dialogue, rather than Protection-of-Afrikaans

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Bibi Burger

Writing in Beeld on 3 September, Charles Smith calls Open Stellenbosch “kommies” wreaking a new “verskroeide aarde” (scorched-earth) policy against Afrikaans. In so-doing he launches the kind of “defence” of Afrikaans which does the language no favours, associating it and its speakers with precisely the kind of paranoid apartheid-era thinking that Open Stellenbosch claims it perpetuates.

By referencing the economy, the state of “black schools” and Xhosa initiation rituals, he is also guilty of the kind of diversionary tactic of which he accuses someone (Open Stellenbosch? Blake Nzimande?) – claiming that they start fires to divert attention from Zuma’s inadequacies. This also serves as an example of the racist assumption underlying a lot of the criticism of Open Stellenbosch I’ve encountered. The implication here seems to be that all black South Africans are in a conspiracy against Afrikaans. In this case one might be charitable and argue that Charles Smith is only guilty of not stating explicitly enough that he is only criticising Nzimande’s support of Open Stellenbosch.

Some of the popular criticism of the movement (both on social media and in casual conversation), however, seems to equate them with the government, the EFF, or all black people. On the Facebook page Maties Rage, for instance, a student complains that black men have harassed her on the street and that Open Stellenbosch’s arguments are therefore invalid and that racism against white people is just as prevalent in Stellenbosch. She ignores Open Stellenbosch’s repeated opposition to the objectification of women, and her ignorance regarding the unavoidable signs of continued systemic white privilege in Stellenbosch is in itself a result of her privilege.

This kind of critique has done more to convince me of the validity of Open Stellenbosch’s aims than the actions of the movement itself. I am not a member of Open Stellenbosch, and I don’t think that it is above criticism. For instance:

  • The support shown by members of #Rhodesmustfall sometimes does more harm than good, creating the impression that Open Stellenbosch is a movement not originating in Stellenbosch.
  • Eusebius Mckaiser’s comments (aimed at Wits students) that black “radical” students should not forget about their own middle-class privilege might be worth keeping in mind.
  • While I appreciate Open Stellenbosch’s oppositional positioning, it sometimes seems as if they dismiss opportunities to work with the university that might lead to pragmatic improvements. This is, however, also true of the university’s dismissive and patronising treatment of the movement; see, for example, Lovelyn Chidinma Nwadeyi’s description of the university’s overreaction to the peaceful mass meeting on 1 September.

The response of the university can be contrasted with the more productive official response of the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership Development to Open Stellenbosch’s #Luister documentary, in which they confirm the validity of students’ experience of racism and exclusion at Stellenbosch. Most of the responses to Open Stellenbosch, however, seem to further confirm stereotypes and prejudices about Afrikaans and entrench the “us versus them” attitude its speakers are associated with.

What is needed is intelligent engagement: an acknowledgement of the movement’s relevance and the validity of some of their stances, and constructive criticism aimed at specific instances, statements and individuals, rather than racist generalities and the rhetorical abuse of the emotions surrounding Afrikaans. In the place of last-mentioned I want to repeat an argument I elaborated on previously: the only way forward for Afrikaans is for its proponents to stop privileging it above other indigenous South African languages and actively and practically support the development of all South African languages. And not in a “let ‘them’ go build their own universities” kind of way – the origin of this “aparte ontwikkeling” argument is well known, as is the historical official and economic privileging of Afrikaans that it ignores. I love Afrikaans, but I believe that attempts at “protecting” my home language should not entrench exclusion, a “laertrek”-mentality and inequality. 

>>>Back to The Open Stellenbosch Seminar


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  • I completely agree with this. If anything I think that by situating this issue in the sphere of the ethno-racial, advocates like Charles Smith are doing more harm to the language than anything else. His follow-up piece in today's Beeld just shows once again the complete misplaced imaginings of white South Africans with regard to their socio-political position in South Africa today. It's bogus and harmful to the language of Afrikaans.

  • Johannes Comestor

    Charles Smith het dit teen Max du Preez se sensasionalistiese oorverligtheid. Maar Smith is geen engeltjie nie. Toe hy Naspers/Media24 se verteenwoordiger in Washington DC was, het hy oorentoesiasties beweer Obama is die enigste mens wat as president Amerika kon red. In sy jongste skrywe verwys Smith goedkeurend na Nelson Mandela en Wim de Villiers. Ek dink nie enige van die mense waarna ek hier verwys het, behoort met die heil van Afrikaans vertrou te word nie. Ook nie Bibi Burger nie, wat klaaglik versuim om liefde vir haar moedertaal werklik uit te leef. Hoe meer Engels aan die US bevorder word, des te gouer sal Afrikaans ondergeploeg word. Dit is 'n taalkundige feit wat nie op die altaar van politieke korrektheid geoffer moet word nie.

  • Charles Smith

    Liewe hemel. As 'n Bibi Burger en CL Kruger jou eers in Engels aanvat oor 'n Afrikaanse debat, het dit laat geword. It's bogus and harmful to the language in Afrikaans...

  • Ms Burger depicts opposition to Open Stellenbosch and their Afrikaans- and Afrikaner hating sidekicks as unregenerate-racist, rhetorical abuse, prejudicial, exclusionary, a "laertrek" mentality, paranoid and an "us versus them" attitude, blithely not realizing that her own, clearly blinkered views themselves amount to blanket biased perception mongering, to the effect that the language concerns of Afrikaans speaking communities are without validity. To top it all she holds them responsible for not promoting the rights of indigenous languages, which amounts to gross ignorance of what in fact is happening on the ground.
    Why must vigorous response, such as that of Charles Smith, to Open Stellenbosch's agitprop-style activities and video be seen as paranoid, racist et al? Why are only Afrikaans educational institutions accused and targeted in this way? She apparently is unaware, or pretends to be, that their campaign was launched in the context of a blatant, highly focused, long term assault by the communist dominated ANC regime on the constitutional language rights - but most specifically their right to receive their education in Afrikaans - of Afrikaans speaking people in general and Afrikaners in particular. An assault with undisguised racist undertones.
    Does she actually think that the bolshie regime with their apparatchiks and shock troops (like Open Stellenbosch) in tandem, would pay any attention to "intelligent engagement" and "constructive criticism"? They have one thing in mind and one thing only: the sacking of Afrikaans educational institutions and the undermining of Afrikaans speakers' constitutional rights. To pretend otherwise is the summit of political naivety.

  • Reageer

    Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.