South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has warned there was “much more to be done” to bring racial equality to universities after a series of angry protests over colonial statues and lectures in Afrikaans.
The unrest kicked off in March at the University of Cape Town (UCT) when students threw excrement at a statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, successfully demanding that it was removed from campus.
Now students at Stellenbosch University have been pushing to be taught in English, not Afrikaans
— the language of the old apartheid government and which is still dominant at the university.
Several other universities across the country have seen violent demonstrations, over a range of issues including blacks alleging they do not receive a fair proportion of student funding.
“The current activity on many historically white university campuses by new student movements (is) related to concerns around the slow pace of university transformation,” Zuma said after holding talks with university heads in Pretoria.
“We… discussed some of the real gains in transforming the higher education sector, while acknowledging that there is still much more to be done.
” Zuma said Afrikaans should not be used to exclude black students from education.
“It is an African language,” Zuma told reporters. “It must not isolate itself.” The racial composition of universities -and the language of their instruction- has become a symbol of continuing inequality faced by young black South Africans 20 years after the end of apartheid.
At UCT, which is regularly ranked as the best university in Africa, black students represent just under a quarter of the student body.
Adam Habib, vice chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, told reporters that the use of Afrikaans was holding back transformation in the country’s universities.