A response to Marlene van Niekerk’s contribution to the Stellenbosch University language debate

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Photo of Marlene van Niekerk: Lien Botha

Reply to “Marlene van Niekerk on the Stellenbosch University language debate”, published 20 July 2016 on LitNet

I have taken a long time to write a response to Marlene van Niekerk’s contribution to the Stellenbosch University language debate, published on 20 July 2016. However, prompted in no small part by conversations with students and colleagues about what this contribution and a lack of response to it signify, I have increasingly felt this silence to be a prevarication, a skirting of responsibility for an Afrikaans academic and writer who works at Stellenbosch University, and who is committed to the language in teaching and research. The responsibility of which I speak is not grounded so much in a perceived need to state and argue an alternative point of view. I have no such desire; people are entitled to their different views on what is a complex and emotional issue. Rather, I am responding to the way in which Van Niekerk enlists the changing academic position of Afrikaans in the construction of a victimology that denigrates its perceived enemies, and treats with disdain the bona fides of a range of people: student protestors, South African voters generally, university colleagues, the poor. In doing so, her contribution achieves the opposite of what it sets out to argue. Concerned with demonstrating the continued academic value of maintaining the institutional position of Afrikaans, it performs anger, fear and entitlement. It is to this aspect of Van Niekerk’s text that I wish to respond. I will do so by setting out the suppositions that I regard as functioning in the background to her text. I will then paraphrase the text, referencing what I regard as its salient points, before showing how her arguments depend on generalizations, hyperbole, insufficient research, contradictions and bad examples. Finally, I will argue that Van Niekerk’s text manufactures two logical problems: (a) a claim to victimhood based, in part, on arguing how constructions of victimhood are dangerous; (b) the paradoxical claim that Afrikaans encodes a spiritual essence, and that there is a clear way of isolating and separating this essence from the socio-cultural worlds in which the language exists.


Van Niekerk’s argument seems to work with the following suppositions:

(a) the survival of Afrikaans hinges on protection of the language in the US language policy;

(b) the 2016 changes to the language policy threaten the existence of Afrikaans;

(c) the 2016 changes to the language policy happened under duress from student mobs who cannot be taken seriously;

(d) the 2016 changes to the language policy were taken by ignorant people who wanted to be politically correct;

(e) there is a moral imperative that can be invoked fundamentally to critique this turn of events.

These suppositions, for Van Niekerk, seem to require no proof or argument, but merely agreement. For my part, I cannot agree or disagree with any of them in their entirety. As regards (a), I mostly disagree. As regards (b), I am in qualified agreement, although this leads me to somewhat different conclusions. As regards (c), Van Niekerk seems to indulge a somewhat uncritical notion of causality that leads her to underestimate changing institutional governance culture and the various ideological entanglements of Afrikaans on the one hand, and to overestimate the fundamental impact of protest on the other. Although I don’t dispute the importance of the student movements of 2015 and 2016, I disagree with her simplistic enlistment of causality to define its role in decisions relating to the language policy. As regards (d), while it might be true of some individuals, Van Niekerk’s point of view is clearly shaped by her self-confessed absence at the meetings where these issues were discussed, and can therefore be dismissed as uninformed. As regards (e), I am in agreement in so far as the moral imperative of redress is acknowledged, but in disagreement as to how it finds expression in language policy.

Suppositions (a) to (e) have been articulated many times. Most recently, I heard a more forceful version of the same ideas at the Convocation meeting of Stellenbosch University in the form of the addresses by the current and past presidents of the Convocation. Those addresses were political in nature, setting out positions from which a variety of political actions (a court case against the university, mobilization of alumni) were intended. Van Niekerk’s text, while not unpolitical, is fundamentally different. It takes the form of a romanticized appeal on behalf of Afrikaans from one of its great writers. In conception, it is a letter of unburdening from the broken heart of a poet, to a sympathetic English-speaking interlocutor, who understands the broader importance of language in general and of Afrikaans in particular. What it shares with the more overtly political positions frequently articulated on behalf of Afrikaans, is the way in which the future can only be envisaged through nostalgia. Whereas this nostalgia is largely uninteresting and often ahistorical in writers of lesser erudition or with more concrete political aims – shackled as it is by clear power-related utilitarian ends – this is not the case in Van Niekerk’s writing (at least not always). Speaking as broken-hearted poet, she does not accept the discursive restraints required by legal or political strategies. Her nostalgia finds expression in yearning for a “hope-giving paideia” that will institutionally enable language interventions as redress.


Van Niekerk starts her letter by signalling her dismay. She is upset, so much so that she hides under her desk and doesn’t attend meetings or events where university policy is discussed. Her “heart is completely broken about this business of pushing Afrikaans out of universities”, because she is a poet. But she is also scared. In fact, “[n]ever before as during the current mayhem regarding Afrikaans have I felt so strongly that it is dangerous to say anything in straight functional language”. For a writer who grew up and published her first work during apartheid (she was born in 1954), this is a startling admission. Van Niekerk complains that today she can talk to no one in South Africa, apart from a few select individuals. Her explanations to her international audiences of the disaster unfolding in her homeland, are met with bewilderment. They just do not understand, she writes, that poor and uneducated South Africans cannot vote sensibly. From underneath her writing desk, “anything vaguely resembling a fresh pragmatic start in South Africa seems precluded”. This is so, not least because South Africans are generally not an impressive bunch in her view, suffering as they do from a typical condition of helplessness and an inability to recognize ideas of a certain sophistication.

The “intellectually dull, populist” student protests – a “well-choreographed” drama by “strategists” using the university as a framing device and “the most perfect theatrical backdrop” – made everything worse, according to Van Niekerk. The students constitute an unthinking homogenous mob that delights in a backward-looking politics of victimhood (“very loud, very self-dramatizing, extremely energetic victims”). They don’t grow their own vegetables, they don’t have the correct reading lists, they dress too well and have newfangled electronic equipment like mobile phones and iPads. Most are “obviously not plotting for more than themselves”. She fantasizes about students who are different, who will not make her hide under her desk, but who will visit her out of sheer curiosity to say that they didn’t know there were “rocks like her”. Comparative premonitions are expressed in relation to Hitler and the Afrikaner National Party’s rise to power. The university senate and management are politically correct stooges. They are weak and inept, “blind to their own hidden corners of intellectual inadequacy”. As closet conservatives and conformists, these “champions of English monolingualism” have “adiaphorised the entire phenomenon of academic Afrikaans”. To her horror, she is confronted with “stupendous intellectual backwardness” while she sits under her desk at home – and this from “pro as well as contra camps”. Stoic philosophy enables us to understand how egregious all of this is. Stoic philosophy should be applied to the latest language policy of Stellenbosch University, as it will show up English-medium instruction as unsuitable “dispreferred indifferent”.

This disaster has something to do with “a lack” articulated in “ou Afrikaans” as “fynsinnigheid, vindingrykheid, geesrykheid" (translated by Van Niekerk as “culturedness, resourcefulness, spiritedness”). “Grace” is what is required: “a spiritual membrane that ought to line one’s heart on the inside and that ought to become pleasantly distended” upon hearing people speak their home languages. This membrane has withered, says Van Niekerk. In demonstrating the warm distendedness of her own membrane, she professes “genuinely feeling sympathy for tens of thousands of dismally poor students”. Yes, she admits, there is a context, and whereas she hid from the protests and meetings where these urgent developments were discussed in the university and further afield, she kept up her reading on web pages. It was all too terrible, but can be made sense of by reading Dutch-American author Saskia Sassen. Reading Sassen should spur one on to critical thinking, of which the first insight is the failures of the Fallist movement, duly listed. The agricultural theme continues to vex the writer greatly. Why do these students not grow their own vegetables? She suspects the reason to have something to do with their fear of being too constructive, and “therefore too white”. She bemoans their anti-intellectualism that found expression in the burning of art works and libraries, the support expressed by #OpenStellenbosch “for the Hitler-praising Mcebo Dlamini”, and the disrespect shown to academics who, unlike herself, foolishly chose not to hide under their desks. As “the full context” of Fallism, these “daft statements and behaviours” mean that one cannot take the “call for Afrikaans to ‘fall’” seriously. It was all “off-target”. The students should have attacked the government instead. Afrikaans was an easy target set up by the Nats, who entirely lacked silky membranes on the inside of the heart.

“How to proceed?” she asks. What about “a group of radically conscientised and experimental artists/writers/intellectuals who provisionally confer around a focus, a hearth that has been neglected and that has gone quite cold”? Has not the writer herself pointed to at least six such individuals with whom she can “have rigorous and probing conversations about all manner of controversial social, political and literary issues”, and who are not stupendously backward? “The people to come” will be “a conference of pro-Afrikaans artists very humorous and supple in their relationship to certain unreconstructed identities”, cohering around religion, group identification, Afrikaner nationalism (apparently, a huge misunderstanding), origin myths, narcissistic Führers and ambitious thought police. Navigating with benign superiority around “nationalist ethnic motivations”, the “coming people” will fight the good fight, distinguishing themselves by “a range of surprising styles of enterprising and imaginative political action” in composing “unique ways of nurturing a free, diverse, culturally heady and politically critical-radical non-nationalist minority Afrikaans sphere” with all “relevant” and “interested” parties. Excluded will be the “unreconstructed identities” who suffer from a “remarkable poverty of ideas”, no doubt because, like the students, they don’t read the right books. For if they read Jean-Luc Nancy, they would be able to find this unique community articulated in his “inoperative community”.

Towards the end of her text, Van Niekerk turns to concrete examples of best practice from YouTube: the bertsolari from the Basque province, and the Maori from New Zealand. She riffs on a number of ideas that could invigorate Afrikaans: critical meditative rituals added to energizing hip hop battles on the Flats, anarchism, self-organizing groups, new cooperative economic enterprises and situationist rieldansers emulating the patterns of extreme sport. Myth, jazz, the Karoo and gender ambiguity are mobilized for a new culture. Why can Afrikaans speakers not be given “a social laboratory space to perform their language” at the University of Stellenbosch, she asks? From our “informed and hope-giving paideia”, we could then go and visit the Basques or the Maori with our discoveries about minor and minority languages. As a post scriptum, the Constitution is enlisted as support for her opinion that “speakers of the standard variety of Afrikaans” need to participate in redress. She seems to understand this as self-evidently achieved best by maintaining the status of Afrikaans as a language of instruction at Stellenbosch University through a process of “nurturing” and “protecting” the language.


Many reservations can be expressed about the way in which Van Niekerk presents her case. She generalizes about motivations (which she cannot possibly know) and historical and contemporary situations, necessitated by inadequate research and non-participation in debates. She indulges in hyperbole of various kinds, a deliberate rhetorical device fueled by her preference for ingesting contemporary events via the algorithms of internet news sites and blogs. Contradictions abound (she sees no problem in declaring South Africa “not a democracy” on one page, and “basically a democratic country” on the next). Often, her resentment spills over into ad hominem attacks on colleagues or collectives, and contesting opinions (often not properly understood, and seldom engaged with) are dismissed because their proponents are declared unworthy in some way or another. She is not particularly respectful of logic in many of her deductions, assuming (by way of example) that “pragmatic rationality” is somehow related to being a “champion of English monolingualism”, or that an indefensible belief by one person means that all other beliefs by that person, or even those associated with that person, must also be indefensible. Her examples are arbitrary, and sometimes strikingly inappropriate for the uses to which she wishes to put them. Her use of Maori and Basque is a case in point: Afrikaans has been, and continues to be, structurally and institutionally empowered beyond comparison with these two languages. It is also not clearly argued why she feels prohibited from implementing the range of interesting ideas she presents as exciting activities for “the people to come” in the “laboratory” of her own creative writing class, where she has the academic freedom to test and improvise. No evidence is presented that this possibility is foreclosed by the new language policy.

Fueled in part by these mistakes in reasoning, Van Niekerk becomes entangled in two substantive logical problems: first, a new claim to victimhood based, in part, on dismissing the notion of victimhood as dangerous; second, the paradoxical claim that Afrikaans encodes a spiritual essence, and that there is a clear way of isolating and separating this essence from the socio-cultural worlds in which the language exists. This claim functions as a precursor to denying the legitimacy of some of these contexts (religion, ethnic nationalism) and endorsing others (the elitism of the paideia), without any argument as to why some of these contexts are undesirable and others are not, nor how preserving the institutional protection of the language at Stellenbosch would enable the latter, but not the former. The first claim (the victimhood of Afrikaans) relates directly to the second (the desire to extract the Afrikaans language from its ideological context, while simultaneously claiming that the residue language is not neutral, but located in something called a “spiritual membrane”, nurtured and protected in a somewhat ambiguous paideia).

As regards the paradox between the acknowledgement of victimhood of Self and Other, the victimhood of self avails itself of much exaggeration: the “attack on Afrikaans”; the fear of labels applied by opportunistic operators that will prove “difficult if not impossible to remove”; the spectre of widespread attacks on writers, artists and journalists, of which Van Niekerk has “naturally had [her] share”; the exhortations of fellow writers for her to leave South Africa; the danger of writing; the prospect of “being written off as a doubtful white Afrikaans charlatan”, with the demand that she should “best shut up and go away”. I could go on, but these examples from the first three pages of her text will suffice. Taken together, they would seem to suggest grave persecution of the writer. But the facts do not bear this out. Van Niekerk has continued to flourish in South Africa as a writer and academic. She has been acknowledged by the South African State (receiving her award of Ikhamanga in Silver from President Jacob Zuma in 2011), by Stellenbosch University (where she is a professor), by the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (from whom she continues to reap the highest awards for her creative work), from the most established and prestigious Afrikaans publishers (who not only publish but also initiate translations of her work), and from South African peers and students who study and overwhelmingly value her contribution to South African letters. Of course, she has been at the centre of debates and controversies as well, but this is to be expected of any important writer who participates in national debates through her art, and hardly amounts to persecution. Hers is, in fact, a version of white victimhood that extrapolates personal resentments to national issues, interprets continued support and acknowledgement through a lens of entitlement and, to use Van Niekerk’s own ungenerous description, seems somewhat “self-dramatizing”.

I have already given a summary of Van Niekerk’s disdain for the protesting students at Stellenbosch University and elsewhere (their disingenuousness, their sartorial deficiencies, their suspect economic empowerment and technological savvy), and will not do so again. She misunderstands much, but perhaps nowhere more demonstrably than when she uses the phrase “their own fully homogenous historically created victimhood” to describe protesting students. This is a nonsense, as half an hour of attendance at any student meeting would be able to confirm. But what is important here is not the misrepresentation of protest, which is not unique. It is the weighting of white victimhood at the expense of black experience (maintaining the importance of victimhood as a discursive construct) to the advantage of the former, to motivate an intervention that recognizes both the non-neutrality of language as spiritual and erotic good, and its principled indifference to its social, economic, political and historical structures of power. Contesting victimhood seems to allow this double claim: intervention on behalf of “a certain type of sensibility or sound” that is acutely vulnerable (“a neglected hearth” is one of the images Van Niekerk uses), and vigorous denunciation of those complicities of the language that would give substance to anti-Afrikaans narratives (Christianity, racism, consumerism, chauvinism, atavism, exclusivism). What does not accompany this claim, is any attempt to show that the spiritual membrane of Afrikaans does not distend pleasantly with its own encoded forms of racism, religious intolerance, brash capitalist consumerism, entitlement, etc. To what extent is the sensibility and sound of Afrikaans to be dissected from these historically formative and structurally embedded ideas, and can one tend “the neglected hearth” without re-igniting some of the dying embers of the “cultural Herrenvolk superiority complex”?

This is where the argument will have to be made, and the work done, if the student protests and the position of Afrikaans at Stellenbosch and at other South African universities are considered. For this to happen, contempt for large sections of the South African body politic and university community (including protesting students), is not a promising starting point. Van Niekerk’s contribution to the debate and her evocation of the paideia do little to convince that Afrikaans can become the “free, diverse, culturally heady and politically critical-radical non-nationalist minority language” she writes about. If hers is the register of “an entirely new politically progressive, ethical and inclusive” Afrikaans, aimed at giving new, “entirely original local content to the regulative idea of domination-free communication”, the prognosis for the language is bleak. The Afrikaans world she conjures up is too exclusive, too fearful, too intolerant, too petty, too self-indulgent. It resembles nothing so much as the paideia which was Stellenbosch in 1970, where the “warm pleasantness” of Afrikaans was nurtured (with admirable aspirations to fynsinnigheid) while the country burned. The concept of the “paideia”, after all, historically referred to a school for slave owners where slaves themselves were not permitted. This is not a “hope-giving” vision of the future, but a nostalgic, denialist version of the past.

Stephanus Muller wrote in his personal capacity and the views in the article are not those of Stellenbosch University. 


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  • Is it not ironic that Stellenbosch is again being subjected to re-colonisation, and that in the very language which is the symbol of British colonisation: English. Only this time it is not done by Charles Somerset, Alfred Milner, and Cecil John Rhodes, but by George Steyn, Wim de Villiers, and Arnold Schoonwinkel.

    • Michiel Heyns

      Van die Universiteit se webwerf:

      Muller lectures in musicology and is responsible for the Music Documentation Centre (DOMUS) in the Music Department. He studied piano with Prof Joseph Stanford and Ms Marian Friedman and organ with Prof SC Zondagh at Pretoria University. He completed his BMus degree in performance in 1992 and studied musicology at Unisa with Prof Bernhard van der Linde and Prof Niel Geldenhuys. In 1998 he was awarded a MMus from Unisa and a Master of Studies from the University of Oxford. In 2001 he received his DPhil from Oxford for a thesis on South African music and identity politics written under the supervision of Prof Roger Parker. Before joining Stellenbosch in 2005, he lectured at the University of the Free State. From 2004-2006 he was the Chairman of the Musicological Society of Southern Africa, and currently serves on the Executive Committee of the South African Society for Research in Music, and the Assessment Panel for Performing and Creative Arts and Design of the National Research Foundation. He has edited NewMusicSA and a guest issue of SAMUSon the music of Peter Klatzow. He is also the co-editor of A Composer in Africa: Essays on the Life and Work of Stefans Grové (2005) and Gender, Sexuality and Music in South Africa (2004).

      En wie is jy, Maans?

      • Michiel Heyns

        O, en Stephanus Muller het 'n MA in Kreatiewe Skryfkuns (cum laude) van die Universiteit van Stellenbosch, en is die wenner van die Universiteit van Johannesburg Prys en die Eugene Marais Prys vir sy boek 'Nagmusiek'.

    • Hiedie ooglopend ongeprovokeerde reaksie word verklaar deur die feit dat Stephanus ‘n paar jaar gelede vir ‘n MA graad in Kreatiewe Skryfkuns by Marlene ingeskryf het; nadat sy haar onttrek het as studieleier, kon hy nog nie weer iemand kry om hom te begelei nie.
      William Shakespeare het gereg gesê:
      How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
      to have a thankless child! Away, away!

      • Michiel Heyns

        Gits, Henk, waar kry jy jou inligting? In der waarheid het Stephanus sy MA (cum laude) voltooi, onder Marlene se studieleiding. Sy werkstuk het toe gelei tot die publikasie van sy boek "Nagmusiek", wat, soos elders vermeld, verskeie toekennings ontvang het.

  • Dominique Botha

    Dear Professor Muller, if DOMUS were to be done away with, the archives burnt and the monies it takes to run it dispersed to more needy and worthwhile causes, would this in any way threaten the possibilities of musicologists doing research in South Africa? Or will research flourish irrespective of the air-conditioned orchidium housing all this arcana?

    • As someone who has conducted research in the 'air-conditioned orchidium' called DOMUS, I can tell you that there is not much funding, or air-conditioning, to re-distribute. What there is, however, is cultural capital in the form of, for instance, the Eoan collection and the HYMAP collection. These collections contain the stories of those people formerly written out of South Africa's (if not more global) histories of music, stories of coloured opera singers, protest musicians, and figures on the margins (due to their place in South Africa) of Western art music. Yet even without funding and certainly none of the necessary equipment or support to properly preserve the material (maybe a form of burning?), research flourishes. Books such as 'Eoan: Our Story' set profound methodological considerations for the international scholarly community concerned with oral histories. Muller's own 'Nagmusiek', despite it being published in Afrikaans and hence severely limiting its international reach, has, in a way, revolutionised music biography. There are even PhDs being written as far afield as Oxford University's music faculty on DOMUS collections. So to answer your question: yes, even without funding or air-conditioning and amid the certain decay of the material, research at DOMUS seems to be flourishing. The question then is (and I think Muller's response here is informed by a similar question): how does one distribute the 'arcana' that is cultural capital? And maybe to answer your other question: decolonisation does not here result in the burning of the archive (because to be honest, it has already been burnt and is still burning), but it certainly does make us think more carefully about what implicitly gets tied up in our research and positions at universities.

  • André Badenhorst

    Cannot help but after reading this having a feeling of being through prolonged but shallow thoroughness. Must have been a monumental piece of self fulfillment artificially rescued from unbearable triviality.

    • Dear Andre,
      In one eloquent paragraph, you exposed this vacuous pseudo-intellectual profound nonsense for what it is. Thank you!

  • Johannes Comestor

    Ek het na aanleiding van Muller se intreerede en sy entoesiastiese pleidooi vir dekolonisering (LitNet, 12 Januarie) op dieselfde dag kommentaar gelewer. Muller het klaarblyklik groot helderheid oor hoedanig bv die Universiteit Stellenbosch moet wees. Hoewel meer as nege maande later, is daardie helderheid blykbaar die grondslag vir sy (persoonlike) aanval op Marlene van Niekerk. Wat hy nie wil hê nie, is duideliker as wat hy wil hê. My versoek is dat hy 'n bydrae tot LitNet se Universiteitseminaar lewer deur sy standpunt te stel en dit met dieselfde helderheid motiveer as wat hy van bv Van Niekerk verwag. Ek stel veral belang in die rol wat hy aan Afrikaans as onderrigmedium sou toeken en in hoeverre studente-toelating en die aanstelling en bevordering van dosente op grond van akademiese verdienste of ras en geslag behoort te geskied.

  • Theo van der Merwe

    I am extremely disappointed with this response of Stefanus Muller, while adding next to nothing to the language policy debate at Stellenbosch. Marlene van Niekerk should regard his response as a big compliment - she must have made quite an impression! It took Muller more or less eight months to gather the guts to respond. I really hope his intensions are pure and that this is not an effort to score a few cheap marks with the principal and his management team. I suggest that he focus on the dishonourable behaviour of the principal and management team of the University of Stellenbosch in future. For an introduction he should read Sonja Loots’ column in Rapport of 19 March 2017. What a disgrace!

  • Wilhelm Fourie

    Stephanus Muller se antwoord is 'n uitstekende voorbeeld van die "swartvoetjie-soek" waarna Breyten Breytenbach al verwys het. Die gedienstigheid van die huidige US-leiers teenoor die ANC is niks anders as wat dit in die 1980s teenoor PW Botha was nie.

  • Agter hierdie "verligtes" skuil daar ook 'n lekker dosis goeie ou Calvinistiese erfsonde dogmatisme.

  • Kaatjie Kekkelbek

    Was Prof Muller not a talented student in the creative writing master classes of Prof van Niekerk a few years back? A sterotypical case therefore of a pupil shedding the shackles binding him to the master writer? A distasteful orgy of "Saturnus being eaten by her child" in an inversion of Goya's cannabalistic and gory painting?

    The main players' pathology - in a mother tongue under threat, akin to (self-) implosion of the Althlone towers op die Vlakte ... Spectacularly shocking, but also nauseating to watch ...

  • Tedium ad nauseam! Perhaps the esteemed professor would do well to direct his energies towards feeling less threatened by someone he so clearly realises is his intellectual superior. Or, at the very least, reconsider the way in which he is trying to come to grips with his apparently deep-seated and serious feelings of inferiority? All this reminds one of what Kierkegaard once said about petty people:

    "There is a form of envy of which I frequently have seen examples, in which an individual tries to obtain something by bullying. If, for instance, I enter a place where many are gathered, it often happens that one or another right away takes up arms against me by beginning to laugh; presumably he feels that he is being a tool of public opinion. [...] Essentially it shows that he regards me as something great, maybe even greater than I am: but if he can’t be admitted as a participant in my greatness, at least he will laugh at me. But as soon as he becomes a participant, as it were, he brags about my greatness.
    Showing that they don’t care about me, or caring that I should know they don’t care about me, still denotes dependence … They show me respect precisely by showing me that they don’t respect me."

  • Linde Dietrich

    Bravo, Professor Muller! While your response to Professor Marlene van Niekerk's contribution adds nothing of significance to the language debate at SU, your ad hominem attack on her as a colleague (a practice that you ironically accuse her of) is a master class in virtue signalling that we can all learn from. There are various definitions of virtue signalling, but this one from Wikipedia seems particularly apt in your case:

    Virtue signalling is the conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily with the intent of enhancing that person's standing within a social group. The term was first used in signalling theory, to describe any behaviour that could be used to signal virtue – especially piety among the political or religious faithful.

    This piece seems to be primarily about your trying to demonstrate your "wokeness" and your credentials of orthodoxy in the ranks of the currently fashionable faithful. Or, as we common types who don't move in the rarefied spheres of academe might say, you seem to be "gatkruiping". Admittedly, with a nicely impressive scholarly veneer and “gooi”-ing of academic jargon. You have my sympathy, though – white Afrikaner male privilege is an inconvenient attribute in today's times, and finding strategies to camouflage it isn't always easy. Beating up white Afrikaner females (metaphorically speaking) won't elicit as much outrage as if the punching bag had been of a different hue and language group, so why not go for it as a way of showcasing your own supposed right-mindedness.

    You sneer at Van Niekerk's supposed claim to victimhood because she, inter alia, expressed "the fear of labels applied by opportunistic operators". With apologies to the late Jim Reeves, I can almost hear him crooning in the background of your piece, "Hello, opportunistic operator ..." In this piece you are doing exactly the same as the likes of Dan Roodt, who have also strategically targeted and labelled Van Niekerk for their own purposes of enhancing their personal brands.

    Among the many claims you make about Van Niekerk's supposed views is that she "treats with disdain the bona fides of a range of people: student protestors, South African voters generally, university colleagues, the poor". The "bona fides of student protestors" is a concept that deserves an encyclopaedic essay of its own, but suffice to say you come across as somewhat naive if you believe that your virtuous attendance of "meetings" endows you with enlightenment as to what happens behind the public facades some of the protestors put up. You seem to have taken Van Niekerk's metaphorical "hiding under her desk" and use of internet research very literally as implying that she has no other sources of information or interlocutors she interacts with in respect of the protest phenomena.

    As for disdain for "the poor" that you impute to her: quite a breathtaking claim, coming from a school of thought that shows its own disdain for "the poor" in and around Stellenbosch by seeking to disempower them even more through linguistic imperialism. "The poor" in our town and surrounding areas, who are overwhelmingly Afrikaans speaking, have enough self-esteem and self-worth issues to cope with without the added burden of being made to feel bad about themselves if Afrikaans is their mother tongue. And are facing the prospect of not being able to receive school education in Afrikaans in future if no such teachers are produced by universities.

    Apart from the distasteful ad hominem nature of this piece and your wilful misinterpretation of Van Niekerk's ideas as nostalgia for the past, it suffers from the same gaping void that tends to characterise arguments in favour of English at SU. Why is English at SU not subjected to the same critical scrutiny of historical imposition, power relations, encoded meanings etc etc that Afrikaans apparently "fatally" suffers from? Throwing "Herrenvolk" accusations at Afrikaans while excusing English from that appellation is like targeting small-fry Nazi officials while ignoring Hitler. And I'm not talking only about historical times, but about the mostly unacknowledged "über alles" privilege associated with English today. In the proposed language policy submitted by Open Stellenbosch some time ago there was reference to "South African English" as the language that should be used at Stellenbosch. What does that term even mean? The variants of South African English used at places such as elite private schools, urban townships, rural areas etc are all very different. Which variant is supposed to apply at Stellenbosch? If it turns out to be the standard "good school" kind, what would that say about a standardised mainstream language, privilege, power relations and who makes the rules, "sins" that are supposed to be "unique" to Afrikaans?

    Maybe the "personal resentments" you accuse Van Niekerk of is also something of a giveaway phrase with regard to what your own motivations may have been in birthing this piece that has had such a long gestation.

    Hierdie kommentaar is geredigeer. – LitNet

    • Etienne Viviers

      Linde Dietrich, jy verstaan Muller se posisie moontlik verkeerd. Hy is nie deel van die Engelse linguisties-imperialistiese skool van denke nie. Alreeds in sy eerste paragraaf beskryf hy homself as "an Afrikaans academic and writer who works at Stellenbosch University, and who is committed to the language in teaching and research". Moet hom dus liefs nie onder dieselfde kam as die Anglofiliese neoliberales skeer nie.

    • Stephanus Muller

      Yesterday, as I read Mrs Dietrich’s response to my text out loud to my family while sitting in the passenger seat of our car (we were travelling to the Karoo to visit my mother, and the string of insults and imputations was livening up the stretch between Beaufort West and Aberdeen) I was brought up short as I read my critique described in terms of a metaphor of ‘beating up white Afrikaner females’, and then seeing the metaphor stretched to an assertion that I was a contributor to the rape culture at Stellenbosch University. I tried to explain to my youngest son what was significant and disturbing about this use of language: It was significant in this context because it demonstrated how hyperbole fed victimology, a central point of my argument; It was disturbing because it diminished the seriousness of rape by applying it carelessly to something that was manifestly not rape, namely critical discourse.

      Revisiting the comment this morning, I was surprised to see that the sentence or sentences (I cannot remember exactly) referring to rape, had been removed. Did I make a mistake? Was the comment real, or had I imagined it? Or had there been a complaint? Did the writer have second thoughts? Was the reply not properly screened before it was published? Did the publisher have second thoughts? Because I had read the comment out loud, and discussed it with my family, I was able to confirm with them that it was real, even if the comment no longer exists on LitNet. None of us could remember the sentence or sentences verbatim, but we agreed that we had not imagined reading it, hearing it, or discussing it.

      But here is the problem: Without the published comment, or at least a transparent editorial indication that it had been made, published and removed and why this was done, history has – in a small but important way – been changed. A truly horrific statement has been published and erased. But the statement continues to exist. It existed yesterday in the car as I read it aloud to my family. It still exists for us this morning, and for anyone who read it while it was published on the internet. But now I cannot prove that it has been made. I have no possibility of referring back to it, of interrogating the meaning of that kind of slippage where my critique became an extension of a culture of rape at Stellenbosch in the imagination of Mrs Dietrich. I write this response to mark the violence of the comment, and of its excision.

  • Etienne Viviers

    1. Marlene van Niekerk het net so lank gevat om tot die debat toe te tree deur iets op LitNet te plaas.

    2. Haar bydrae was uitsonderlik en staan sterk ten spyte van die kritiek wat in hierdie respons verskyn.

    3. Van Niekerk en Muller se persoonlike verhouding is neither here nor there: hulle is akademici wat 'n saak debatteer.

    4. Albei Van Niekerk en Muller het slim bydraes tot die gesprek gelewer, tesame op soek na maniere hoe Afrikaans deel van onderrig en navorsing by die US kan bly.

    5. Dat hulle nie met mekaar saamstem nie is 'n aanduiding van hoeveel verdere gesprekvoering nodig is om huidige akademiese probleme uit te sorteer.

    • Theo van der Merwe

      Ek stem saam met Etienne dat gespreksvoering uiters belangrik is, maar voer mens debat as jou huis in ligte laaie staan? Ek bewonder Marlene van Niekerk vir haar wonderbaarlike bydraes tot die Afrikaanse letterkunde, asook die pragtige en vernuwende Nagmusiek van Stephanus Muller. Die probleem is egter dat Rome brand en die Afrikaanse kalf in die spreekwoordelike put is. In so 'n prekêre situasie moet diegene wat verengelsing voorstaan eerder getakel word en hul dwaasheid aan die lig gebring word. Met slegs twee universiteite wat tans nog klasse in Afrikaans aanbied is daar nie tyd vir haarklowery onder voorstanders van Afrikaans nie.

  • Waldemar Gouws

    Waarom Muller hom so abrup van sy eie geloofwaardigheid distansieer, weet nugter alleen. Maar as hy in sy inleidende paragraaf skryf: “… Van Niekerk treats with disdain the bona fides of a range of people: student protestors, South African voters generally, university colleagues, the poor,” dan weet ek hy wat Muller is het nie die goedertrou van die geïmpliseerde miljoene Suid-Afrikaners na wie hy verwys en namens wie hy hom dit verwerdig om te praat gedurende die afgelope paar maande gekontroleer nie.

    Met die verder lees besef ek dat die stem van ‘n eitydse inkwisiteur duidelik deurslaan – iemand soos ‘n verabsoluterende hond van God (Dominikaan) wat ‘n aanklag teen ‘n uitgesnuffelde ketter voorberei het vir die tribunaal, met foltering of verbranding van die veroordeelde in die vooruitsig. Sekulêr gesproke dus ‘n ou fascis.

    Die persverklaring, waarin die FeesMust Fall-leierskap op 2 November 2016 die wit Stellenbossers gedreig het met roof en aanranding, is intussen van die internet verwyder. Die FMF-aktiviste se bona fides is egter veilig in Muller se bewussyn bewaar.

    Hoe jammer dat hierdie gekoesterde sweer hom nou op hierdie forum kom ontpop het.

  • Piet Croucamp

    Tipiese reaksie. Nie 'n enkele argument tot die teendeel nie. Net beledigings. Laat my wonder of daar 'n redelike argument vir die behoud van Afrikaans bestaan.

    • Johannes Comestor

      Dit is nie duidelik of Piet Croucamp, as gebore Afrikaanssprekende – ek sal hom nie 'n Afrikaner noem nie – 'n versugting uiter dat hy graag argumente ten gunste van die behoud van Afrikaans wil hoor nie. Of is sy opmerking 'n uitdrukking van wensdenkery dat daar liefs geen argument ten gunste van Afrikaans as universitêre onderrigtaal moet wees nie? As hy 'n gereelde LitNet-leser was, sou hy bewus gewees het van talle onomstootlike argumente ten gunste van Afrikaans aan die Universiteit Stellenbosch (US). Daar is ongetwyfeld miljoene Afrikaanssprekendes wat, wat onderrigmedium betref, verkies om eerder in Afrikaans as Engels te studeer. Is dit nie 'n sterk of geldige argument ten gunste van Afrikaans nie? Nie so lank gelede nie, was die US 'n eentalige Afrikaanse universiteit. Is daar werklik sulke sterk argumente teen so 'n opset dat dit radikaal en vinnig verander moet word deur by voorkeur Engels as onderrigmedium te gebruik?

      Teen die hang van Papegaaiberg is daar die graf van Johannes Henoch Marais (8.09.1850-30.05.1915). Hy het teen die einde van sy lewe met 'n ruim skenking die ontstaan van die US moontlik gemaak. Hy het net een myns insiens baie redelike voorwaarde gestel: dat Hollands, oftewel Afrikaans, nie 'n mindere plek as Engels aan daardie universiteit mag beklee nie. In 2015 was die US reeds fluks besig om te verengels; nie deur Engels in dieselfde mate as Afrikaans in te voer nie, maar om by voorkeur Engels as onderrigmedium te gebruik; op nagraagse vlak feitlik uitsluitlik. In 2015, dus na 'n eeu, is Marais se dood nie eens deur die US op die Marais- (of Rooi-) plein met 'n byeenkoms of kranslegging by sy standbeeld gedenk nie. Anders as die US, het die trustees van Het Jan Marais Nationale Fonds gelukkig die leiding geneem met 'n kranslegging by Marais se graf en 'n huldigingsbyeenkoms in Marais se eertydse huis in Coetzenburg.

      Wat ek graag van Piet Croucamp of enige van sy geesgenote wil hoor, is of hy of hulle genoeë neem met die manier waarop Marais se wens en nalatenskap hanteer word. Daar is mense op die US-kampus wat ingevolge hulle doseeropdrag of andersins hoog opgee oor etiek. Ek wil graag klaarheid kry of daar met Jan Marais eties regverdigbaar gehandel word. Piet Croucamp en andere kan gerus ook vorendag kom met voorstelle oor hoe hy of hulle dink die US volgende jaar die Jan Marais-kwessie tydens die US se eeufees moet hanteer. Weer soos in 2015? Die US het hom nog nie eens verwerdig om te erken dat Jan Marais se voorwaarde nie meer nagekom word nie.

      • Susarah Maria van Zyl

        Stem volkome saam met elke woord Johannes Comestor. Dankie dat jy weer hierdie feite onder ons aandag bring.

    • Andre Badenhorst

      Heita Pappa Piet!
      Ironies is jou reaksie 'n tyd gelede op Breyten Breytenbach vir ons 'n gewaande voorbeeld van dit wat jy nou sê. Die emosionaliteit van bogenoemde artikel laat my aan jou styl herinner (https://www.litnet.co.za/piet-croucamp-reageer-op-breyten-breytenbach-se-ope-brief-aan-wim-de-villiers). Dit was daarom voorspelbaar dat jy nou jouself met Stephanus Muller se relaas vereenselwig: dis hoogmode om ou omies (oeps!) met grys skoene aan te vat.
      Die verskil in hierdie forum is dat daar oorgenoeg argumente heers vir die behoud van Afrikaans as akademiese taal. Is dit dan nodig om dit in die kommentare te herhaal, veral as die protagoniste van Engels die heeltyd op een snaar tokkel?
      Een ding is ek met jou eens: Dis is jammer dat mens tot die punt kom waar rede versaak word (heeltemal teen die gees van die universiteitswese). Ons het regtig nodig om 'n bietjie uit te styg bo die geraas. Daar is goeie argumente vir inklusiwiteit sowel as die reg op die eie. Beide het te doen met vry wees en daar kan soveel welwillendheid ontsluit word as daar aan elkeen (gerusstellend en daadwerklik - nie net met beloftes nie) voldoen word. Hoef dit noodwendig wedersyds uitsluitend te wees? Indien wel, is ons maar bra lui in ons gedienstige denke. En dit blyk die geval te wees met die bestuur van die universiteit.
      Ek haal Breytenbach aan (juis uit die stuk waarteen jy geprotesteer het):
      "Dis nou die tyd om moedig, kreatief, vindingryk, onbevooroordeeld en inklusief te wees. Dis nou die tyd om te luister! En u sal sien hoe baie goeie wil daar werklik is om u hand te sterk in die verwerkliking van ’n veelsydige universiteit wat sy krag put uit die rykdom aan diversiteit van oorspronge en skeppingspotensiaal van hierdie geweste as smeltkroes en voorbeeld van ons land se moontlikhede."

  • Marietjie Pauw

    Mense is horende mense, met ore 'oop', tensy daar fout is. Hoe sou ek 'sensibility and sound', of 'sense and sonority [van Afrikaans]' na Afrikaans vertaal? Klink dit soos die konserwatiewe John Cage wat probeer terug reik na dissekterende 'sound itself'; of is hier, in hierdie frase, Afrikaans as klank? Maar verryk, skreiend, pynlik, nostalgies, nuttig, nodig, plaaslik, dekoloniale opsie: Afrikaans as klank-in-konteks?
    'n Frase uit die einde van Stephanus Muller se respons verwys: 'To what extent is the sensibility and sound of Afrikaans to be dissected from these historically formative and structurally embedded ideas ...'
    Die 'klank-ervaring-wees-menswees-uitspreek in vele vorme van taal' (my vertaling vir ‘sensibility and sound Afrikaans’) word geografies, histories en vir nou gekarteer deur histories-vormende en struktureel-ingebedde kontekste van Afrikaans ter plaatse, ten tyde van mense se omgang met haar. Afrikaans in haar vele gewade is ’n kakofonie van prag-uitdrukking wat oor-haartjies aanhou prikkel. Sy was en is een van vele opsies hier ter suide vir horendes-sprekendes. Maar sy kom met ’n verhaal wat haarself vertel: telkens anders, spesifiek, hier en nou, deur stemme wat die taal praat-skryf-hoor. Nie ’n maklike of lui of eensoortige storie nie.
    Muller se respons vertel een so 'n verhaal, en hy vertel dit in Engels. Elders volg ek Muller se liefde en genot vir en van Afrikaans as klank. Hy skryf: ‘Die klank is gesmoor, bot […] ’n dowwe plonk’ (Muller 2014:356). Sonder die konteks beskryf en beleef, deur die een of die ander stem, waarvan Muller een stem is, is klanke dof. Muller se skrywe belig en verhelder, klinkend.

  • Piet, waar was jy die afgelope dekade waarin die redelike argumente vir die behoud van Afrikaans by die US en ander instellings oorvloedig opgestapel is deur kundiges? En het jy dan al vergeet hoe jy Breyten Breytenbach hier op LitNet beledig het?

  • Ek verstaan nie hoekom hierdie artikels so dikwels op Engels geskryf word nie. Vir my lyk dit of Afrikaans se voortbestaan eerstens berus op 'n konsensus van die taalgenote dat dit hoegenaamd voortbestaan werd is, of nie werd is nie. Die Afrikaanse akademici lyk vir my hoofsaaklik van mening dat die asdrom meer geskik daarvoor is. Waarom verkondig hulle dit dan nie aan diegene wat waarskynlik Engels nie goed genoeg magtig is om die verhewe argumente te begryp nie? So kan die taal dan makliker in sy peetjie gewerk word as almal besef en saamstem dat dit die einde is.
    Ek vra dus, wat is die doel dus met Engels as voertaal in die verband? Dikwels slaan die Afrikaanse idioom nog deur in die swak Engels ook (maar dit daar gelaat). Dit skep waarskynlik 'n vyandige reaksie by die wat oortuig moet word, juis omdat dit in 'n vreemde taal geskied. Die Engelssprekendes stel tog seker nie belang in die geredekawel nie, want die verdwyning van die taal sal hul wêreld net meer eenvoudig maak. Al wat ek kan dink is dat dit gedoen word om te bewys hoe gedienstig die redenaar kruip (in pront/plat Afrikaans, "om g@t te kruip"). Hier is ons eintlik terug by die politiek, wat die swakste taal-argument is. Miskien het prof Van Niekerk bedoel om die Engelse te bereik wat Afrikaans wil vernietig. 'n Edele motief, maar ook maar 'n pêrelverkwisting. Hulle is die laaste mense wat oortuig moet word.

  • Ek wens hier was 'n like-knoppie. Like: Michiel Heyns, William en Etienne Viviers se kommentaar.

  • The strongest indicator of the intellectual poverty of this particular comment-thread is that most commentators are more interested in who wrote what, as opposed to what they actually wrote.

    Even if you don’t agree with it, Muller’s response to Van Niekerk is a perfectly valid deconstruction of the latter’s very personal essay, which, surely even the most neutral reading must reveal, has moments of both condescension and naivety. Paradoxically, these qualities are amplified by the sheer volume of disembodied theory that Van Niekerk barricades herself behind. I also have to concur with Muller that Van Niekerk’s choice of examples is unfortunate. I for one do not understand how one could speak about Afrikaans in the same breath as Māori. The painful legacy left to young Afrikaans-speakers such as myself is of an entirely different order to that left to the speakers of a language nearly wiped out by colonialism. So too should the strategies that are employed to negotiate their future.

    If the language debate is an emotive and painful one for all lovers of Afrikaans, then perhaps even more so for Muller and Van Niekerk, lecturers employed by Stellenbosch University whose most important work has appeared in Afrikaans. I can only concur with Etienne Viviers who noted above that what we need is more, not less, robust debate and examination of each other’s ideas. And not, as some of the comments above seem to try to do, a dismissal or silencing based on we think we know about the people behind these ideas.

    • Wilhelm Fourie

      The university management is not interested in robust debate. Decisions are made behind closed doors and then communicated to the public.

  • Marietjie Luyt

    Hier is nou die eiertjie wat ek oor die saak wil lê:
    Die "Herrenvolk" wat Muller so bang is gaan herrys, bestaan lankal nie meer nie. As dit ooit bestaan het.
    Maar wie beslis die septer swaai, vir almal sê wat om te doen, en hoe, is "Bestuur". En Bestuur kan nie Afrikaans praat nie, net daai vieslike MBA-speak, die lingo van neoliberales oor die aardbol heen. Probeer 'n bietjie van daai hoogklinkende frases in Afrikaans vertaal, en dan sien jy sommer dadelik dis alles net tjol.
    Weliswaar die soort tjol wat magsuitoefening glad en so ampertjies onsigbaar laat geskied.
    Dié dat Stellenbosch moet verengels. Sonder die Bestuurstaal kan Bestuur immers nie bestuur nie!

    • Wilhelm Fourie

      Ek stem absoluut saam! Dit is dieselfde MBA-speak waarmee oral op aarde opportunistiese besluite regverdig word. Die Afrikaanssprekendes het nie juis mag nie, daarom speel hulle nie 'n rol nie.

  • Lamé Ebersöhn

    Hierdie waarneming en interpretasie van Johann Rossouw is puik. Dit beur die ruimte oop vir openhartige intellektuele oop gesprek.

  • Ek hoop daar is meer akademici van die gehalte en denkvermoë van Prof Muller en bewys hy dat die argument ten gunste van Afrikaans, gestroop van emosie, retoriek en arrogante profesieë, baie min diepte het in die huidige konteks. Daar is soveel realiteite vandag wat net met transformasionele denke en sonder bagasie aangepak kan word.

    Daardie onderliggende bangmaakstorie dat Afrikaans gaan uitsterf as dit nie op Stellenbosch gepraat gaan word nie (en die feit dat ons altyd 'n groot letterkundige figuur moet kry om dit vir ons te vertel - asof een akademiese department se belange al die res moet oorheers): dalk moet ons eers verstaan die primêre probleem wat ons probeer oplos is om soveel as moontlik Suid-Afrikaners bloot te stel aan hoër onderwys (vir bladsye vol redes). Dit is moreel onvanpas om as Afrikaanssprekendes 'n universiteit te probeer gyselaar hou vir die behoud van Afrikaans ten koste van die res van Suid-Afrika.

  • Marietjie Luyt

    Lees gerus hierdie betoog deur Joel Milward Hopkins, 'n navorsingsgenoot in die Departement Ekonomiese en Omgewingstudies aan die Universiteit van Leeds oor wat hy "neoliberale psigologie" noem.https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology.

    Mens kan gerus maar Mellet Moll se primêre aanname, naamlik dat die bestuursmodel geen ideologiese onderbou het nie, en dus geen "bagasie" met hom saamdra nie, aanvat. Soos Hopkins duidelik aantoon, is maatskaplik-Darwinistiese konsepte van voortdurende onderlinge kompetisie nou algemeen, ook in die universiteitswese.
    Dis geen "bangmaakstorie" dat Afrikaans as 'n ontwikkelde taal sal uitsterf as sy hoër funksies hom ontneem word nie. Mellet kan mense dus nie verkwalik as hulle "emosioneel" op sulke planne en besluite reageer nie. En dit alles net omdat daar nou skynbaar konsensus is dat veeltaligheid nie meer 'n ideaal is om na te streef nie - en dat 'n stomvervelige monokultuur eerder ons voorland moet wees.

    • Stem saam dat die bangmaakstorie lankal nie meer net 'n storie is nie. Veel van Afrikaans se literatuur, grammatikale ontwikkeling en woordeboeke (om maar net enkele voorbeelde te noem) het sterk akademiese ondersteuning gehad. Die Universiteit van Kaapstad (!) het mense onder meer mense soos Opperman, Louw, Boerneef, Leipoldt, Kannemeyer, Walters, Merwe Scholtz, DB Bosman, J du P Scholtz gehuisves. Van daardie departement het niks oorgebly nie.
      Sover Moll aanbetref: Alles het bagasie. Dit hang maar net af watter denkrigting voorgetrek word. Om Engels te beskou as waardevry en neutraal is eintlik lagwekkend as Britse Imperialisme beskou word.
      Aan die ander kant, weet ek nie of ek Hopkins se tipering van die hedendaagse (Westerse) gemeenskap as markverwant-behep kan ondersteun nie. Die vryemark-ideologie (wat individualisme en persoonlike vryheid hoog opgee), herken ek skaars in die sosialisme en politieke korrektheid van Europa. Die Stellenbosch-gedoente is waarskynlik juis 'n voorbeeld van staatsinmenging en voorskriftelike predikers wat ryk mense wil belas en die ekonomie radikaal wil hervorm. Die grootste welsynsprofete van ons tyd is snaaks genoeg, dikwels die wat geen erg aan godsdiens het nie - dit net tersyde.
      Ek stem saam dat onderwys baie belangrik is, maar dit kan tog sekerlik gedoen word sonder om alle bestaande voortreflikheid in die naam van transformasie te vernietig. Is dit regtig so onmoontlik vir 'n anderstalige om in Afrikaans te studeer? Daar is vele Engelse studente wat suksesvol op Stellenbosch klaargemaak het - net soos daar Afrikaanssprekendes is wat op Engelse universiteite hul kursusse voltooi het. Die studie-materiaal het reeds 'n geweldige Engelse komponent.
      Die geknaag gaan buitendien nie ophou nie. Die volgende teikens is die inhoud van die kursusse en die velkleur van die dosente.

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