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The Stellenbosch University (SU) Students’ Representative Council (SRC) recently attracted the attention of the Afrikaans advocacy group StudentePlein after two of its members alleged that two recent SRC communications had been published in English only. Following the circulation of an email written solely in English by the SRC to students on 1 February, StudentePlein approached the SRC on behalf of its members to raise the issue. 

According to Albertus Liebenberg, the director of member services at StudentePlein, the practice of monolingual communication by the SRC “does not align with the requirements of SU’s Language Policy”, and StudentePlein requested that future communications also be published in Afrikaans.

Philip Visage, vice-chairperson and policy officer of the SRC, stated that the two “mass mailers” sent to students to date by the 2021/22 SRC were written in English only “due to the practicality of sending out mass mailers in a single language”. 

He said, however, that the SRC had, prior to StudentePlein’s complaint, already recognised the need to communicate in each of SU’s official languages. To that end, the SRC has worked to secure the necessary funding that will allow it to utilise the translation services of the SU Language Centre and to release all communications in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.

Visage said that the SRC has commenced a “process to draft and adopt a communication policy that would address all manners of [their] interaction with students, including language usage. 

“This policy has, however, stalled due to our communications officer’s resignation. We intend to adopt it before the end of this academic term.”

Visage said that the SRC is “not bound by the provision in the language policy that obliges official internal communication to be [published] in all three languages”. 

This view was adopted by the SRC after comments on the factual accuracy of its response to StudentePlein’s complaint were received from SU Legal Services. Visage continued, “The SRC should, in principle, release communication—to the extent feasible—in all three languages.”

Liebenberg expressed dissatisfaction with the SRC’s “informal undertaking”, arguing that “the SRC is incorporated and regulated by [paragraph 26(1) of the SU ­Statute] and as such is an institutional body of SU [that] has to ­adhere to the Language Policy”. 

He continued, “While it is encouraging that the SRC informally intends to comply with clause 7.2.1 of the SU Language Policy, it is worrying that the SRC . . . wants to evade strict commitment ­[thereto].” 

Stressing that StudentePlein had opted “to act in good faith”, Liebenberg said that his organisation would “await the outcome of the adoption of the SRC Communication Policy”. 

Both Liebenberg and Visage emphasised the importance of multilingualism within the context of tertiary education. The former stated, “SU should not be an English university that also offers ­certain courses in Afrikaans. It should be a multilingual university within a multilingual environment.” 

This sentiment was echoed by Eduan Naudé, a third-year BA (International Studies) student who lodged the complaint with StudentePlein. He highlighted that the matter was largely one of accountability and said, “The SRC should be representing all students on campus, but by posting and communicating in English, they are showing disregard to the majority of students [who speak Afrikaans and Xhosa].”

Co-complainant Kristan Kraak, a second-year BA (International Studies) student, adopted a more strident tone, stating that she ­believed it to be “important to ­attack the institutional English culture head-on, considering that SU claims to accommodate Afrikaans and Xhosa students as well,” an official stance that she argued had begun to “[seem] like a facade”. 

Visage’s response to the complaints stressed the need for ­nuance in the SRC’s approach to communication. “The SRC values multilingualism, as it is a core characteristic of the diverse student populace that we serve. . . We intend to communicate to our students in the manner best suited to [making] them feel acknowledged and represented.” 

However, he noted that in certain circumstances, the interests of the student body would be “better represented by instant communication”. He continued, “In those cases, our mandate requires us to place speedy communication (in a language that is understood by all students) above multilingual communication.”

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