Black students at Elsenburg push for transformation

Students at the Elsenburg Agricultural College near Stellenbosch have vowed to persist with their call for transformation despite the compromise to have full English and full Afrikaans lectures.

This follows a 4-day long protest by students at the college, supported by the Economic Freedom Fighters. The protest was marked by boycotting of classes by locking up lecture and examination rooms.The situation escalated on the second day after the protestors who locked up the lecture rooms clashed with white students that are supported by Afriforum.

Speaking on behalf of the students, third year student and EFF member, Liphelo Mpumlwana said that they are fighting for transformation at the college. “We are fighting against the use of language as a barrier and racism and we have handed our demands to the management. We have explored all the avenues and we have not been heard”.

The lectures at the institution are both in English and Afrikaans on 50/50 basis. This means that the lecture would be delivered in both languages and when the lecturer is speaking English for example the slides would be in Afrikaans and vice versa.

The standoff between black students supported by the EFF and white students supported by Afri-Forum

Elsenburg is a Western Cape government institution with degree courses accredited by the University of Stellenbosch. Darryl Jacobs the Acting Deputy Director General for the Western Cape Agriculture department, which the institution is under, told Elitsha that they have responded by having 100% English classes and 100% Afrikaans classes.

Initially the students were against this as it “would only serves as and addition to the current diseased institutional culture of segregation”. But on the evening of the third day of protests and after lengthy negotiations that continued into the night, a compromise was reached. The students have made it clear that the agreement does not mean that they have won. In an email communication, Liphelo made it clear that “The agreement does not mean the work of the decolonize EAC (Elsenburg Agricultural College) is over but we have taken a step closer to our goal”.

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Jacobs said that the agreement has already been implemented and that the parallel classes would start immediately. He also said that they have taken steps to start a process that would look at transformation issues. “The College has already instituted a change management process, with independent facilitators, and which would involve broad stakeholder engagments”, said Jacobs.

The issues of language and race at Elsenburg Agriculture College and University of Stellenbosch came to light after the widely-circulated documentary, Luister (Listen), in which students and lecturers tell of discrimination on and off campus.

Recently, Stellenbosch University’s management briefed Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education on its progress in implementing its transformation plan and language policy for the institution.

Open Stellenbosch protest at the inauguration of the new Vice Chancellor, Wim de Villiers.

Students at Elsenburg said  the issue was not only about Afrikaans as a language of instruction but also about racist attitudes among some white students and academics.

Thandeka Maseti, a 21 year old student from Phillipi who is studying for the Higher Certificate in Animal Production says that when the lecture is being delivered in Afrikaans she gets lost and her mind switches off. “Even though the slides are in English, I still want the lecturer to explain the concepts”. Maseti also said that the food that is served at the dining hall is mainly Afrikaner food.

Akhona Silele, a third year B.Agric student says that they were only 4 black students in her first year class in 2013. “Last year it was 1 student and this year its only 5”.

Liphelo Mpumlwana a Bsc.Agric (Viticulture and Oenology) final year student says that black students stopped patronising the college club because they get called kaffirs and the kind of events and activities that the house committee at residences organizes are culture specific internship adverts are all in Afrikaans. Mpumlwana has also laid a charge of assault against one of the lecturers. “When we protested outside an exam hall where some students had been waiting to enter, a lecturer slapped me and I have laid an assault charge against him”.

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Part of the agreement that was made is that no formal charges will be laid by both the students and management as a result of the protest action.

On day 3 a scuffle broke out between a white student and an EFF member. Also some students claim that white students were provoking the protestors as they were singing and dancing on the road by driving fast with screeching tryres. When this was put to Bernard Pieters, chairperson for the youth wing of the Afri-Forum at Stellenbosch University he denied it even though Elitsha has photos to prove this.

Leana van Eeden who says she has replaced Sabelo Ngcobo as the SRC chairperson accused the EFF and the protesting students of being racist. “The EFF had a poster that said ‘Bring back our stolen land’ and “ they were being disruptive with protests”, said van Eeden.

Students at historically white universities countrywide have embarked on protests demanding transformation and “decolonization” of white universities. Recently, the Black Student Movement staged a sit-in at Rhodes University’s council chambersin Grahamstown, reportedly over the failure of transformation at the university.

Earlier this year a statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town following protests.




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