FW de Klerk stands up for Afrikaans

The Afrikaans language is being eroded in many spheres of society, former president FW de Klerk said on Friday.

“I find the systematic erosion of the rights and claims of Afrikaans, as established in the Constitution, unacceptable,” De Klerk said.

Speaking at the University of Pretoria’s Afrikaans language conference, De Klerk said that language is one of the fundamental rights on which consensus was reached during negotiations to end apartheid.

He believes that not only are some of the provisions of the Constitution often circumvented today, but the spirit in which they were negotiated is also not being honoured.

“Despite our Constitution, Afrikaans is being used in an ever-decreasing manner in our courts and in state activities. Afrikaans is also under pressure at the SABC [South African Broadcasting Corporation],” he said.

The language is also under pressure at schools and universities. “Single-medium Afrikaans schools are decreasing rapidly.”

He said it is true that Afrikaans was a dominant language in the time of apartheid, but it is also true that those who struggled against apartheid often did so in Afrikaans.

“When my colleagues in the Cabinet and I planned our far-reaching reforms, we did so in Afrikaans, and the implementation of those plans was also conducted in Afrikaans,” De Klerk said.

Taking action

He suggested that Afrikaans-speakers should insist on the maintenance of the constitutional position of Afrikaans in general, and in particular at schools and universities.

“We must place Afrikaans at the forefront of the meaningful recognition, as well as promotion, of all our other indigenous languages.
I believe that Afrikaans really has the ability to be a front-runner from which all languages in South Africa can benefit.”

According to De Klerk, one of the key realities of South Africa is that it is a multicultural country and everyone belongs to one of the 11 language groups.

“For me, this means that I will never be asked to abandon my Afrikaans heritage; that my people and I are recognised as a positive building block in the South African nation, and that all other South Africans have the same claims with regard to their cultural heritage,” he said.

At the end of last month, De Klerk also said that Afrikaans was under threat after regional police accused authorities of banning the language.

A group of Afrikaans-speaking police officers complained to De Klerk’s Centre for Constitutional Rights that officials in the Western Cape had declared English the only means of communication.

De Klerk was South Africa’s last white president and won a Nobel Peace prize for his role in fostering racial unity and securing its smooth transition from apartheid to the first all-race poll in 1994.

He has often been at loggerheads with the black-led government and has accused the ruling African National Congress of marginalising whites with policies meant to empower blacks.—Sapa

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