Afrikaans must Fall and English must Rise

Ironies and Contradictions in Protests by South African University Students

  • Bevelyn Dube


The 2015/2016 student protests at former Afrikaans-medium universities in South Africa challenged, among other matters, the status of Afrikaans as a language of teaching and learning at South African universities. Inspired by the #RhodesMustFall protest movement, which called for the decolonisation of curricula at tertiary institutions in the country, movements, such as Open Stellenbosch and similar movements at Pretoria, Free State and North West universities, demanded that Afrikaans be replaced by English to allow more access for the formerly marginalised population groups in South Africa. Since neither Afrikaans nor English is the first language of most South African university students, and since both languages were largely imposed on black Africans through acts of colonial and apartheid violence, it would be interesting to explore the ambivalence inherent in the students’ choice of English over Afrikaans. The contradictions or ambiguities inherent in the language protests are explored through Ng˜ug˜ı’s thesis of decolonising the mind and Bourdieu’s concepts of the ‘linguistic habitus’ and ‘linguistic market’.