The DA’s Deluded or Demagogue Approach To Stellenbosch University

By Luke Waltham

The DA’s Federal Congress over the last weekend has resulted in a number of reactions and thoughts by voters, critics and commentators nationwide. The leading opposition party has been in a spot of bother for the last few years, with its dismal election result in 2019 initiating introspection, as well as internal conflict.

However, with recent comments made by its new federal leadership and a reiteration of Leon Schreiber’s remarks regarding Stellenbosch University (SU), do these signify an unveiling of the direction the DA is aiming to take in terms of race: one of colour-blindness, demagoguery and possible gaslighting? 

Stellenbosch University’s language policy has long been an issue of contention especially given the historical context and the Fallist movements’ initiatives that sought to decolonize and achieve equitable justice at an institution that’s been renowned for its oppressive tendencies during the apartheid era. 

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Previously, Stellenbosch University had a predominant Afrikaans language policy, which was heavily critiqued and protested against by the Open Stellenbosch and #FeesMustFall movements, whereby a new language policy was drafted seeking to right the wrongs of a formerly exclusive policy. The policy has also been approved by the Constitutional Court, and the court even expressed that the former policy added “exclusionary hurdles to higher education”. 

Understanding context is crucial and unfortunately, it would seem the DA is disregarding this in order to pursue their own agenda. As stated by Open Stellenbosch in 2015, Afrikaans was used as “a vehicle for the marginalization of South Africans” who “did not belong to the Afrikaner minority.” The aim of Open Stellenbosch’s proposal for a new language policy was to “break away from the constraints of injustices perpetuated by the institution” which included establishing English as the primary language medium. 

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Despite the social and historical context, as well as the judicial support received by the new language policy of Stellenbosch University, the Democratic Alliance has been attempting to intervene its implementation, and now seeks to propose new language policies which include bringing Afrikaans back to the fore at SU. 

In 2017, DA MP Belinda Bozzoli argued that the new language policy allegedly contravenes the Constitution since it is forcing people to learn in English rather than the language of their choice. Since 2015, DASO members who supported anti-racist initiatives on campus, and partook in #FeesMustFall protests were disciplined or ill-treated by leaders in the party for supporting movements and decisions that were, in their view, illiberal.  

Moreover, it would seem that the DA has not done enough research of the current language policy’s implementation at SU, since their desire to make “Afrikaans equal to English” at the institution is one that exists where modules offer a dual medium. Perhaps an appropriate critique of the DA’s proposal is why only choose Afrikaans when isiXhosa is a prominent language at SU too? 

The answer to this is to analyse the previous election results and the decisions made by the party since then. It is clear that the DA lost much of its conservative Afrikaner vote to the Freedom Front Plus and despite the party claiming to be a liberal one, it hopes to gain their vote next year. Hence, it should not be a surprise that the party is pandering on the insecurities and opinions of the right who claim “white victimhood”.  

This initiative by DA members such as Bozzoli and Schreiber, with the DA’s sudden burst of “unwavering support” for farmers, and the return of controversial, right wing backed figurehead, Helen Zille, are all signs of the DA’s ability to give up its own liberal discourse for the “prize” of white Afrikaans support. 

It was the former ANC Chief Whip, Stone Sizani, who had said that the DA is an “enemy of transformation and defender of white privilege” for they were at the forefront of opposing “transformation developments at Stellenbosch University”, and whether the party likes it or not, Sizani’s description is materialising. 

Unfortunately, the DA’s version of non-racialism is one-dimensional and fails to include contextual understanding and constitutional values that detail the reasons for language, especially Afrikaans, being linked to racial segregation and oppression. Whether there was intention or not, the DA is further lighting the fire of divisiveness than unification and empowerment. 

It will be interesting and concerning to witness the DA attempting to chip at the Constitutional Court’s ruling of SU’s language policy. It has already begun targeting former Justice Edwin Cameron and SU Vice Chancellor Wim de Villiers over the language policy, and judging from recent tweets by the DA, more is to come. 

Luke Waltham is a writer, blogger and social justice activist. He is completing a postgraduate degree at Stellenbosch University. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.

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