In our increasingly racially polarised society, it is not surprising that the move to change the names of student residences at the University of Pretoria has generated an angry reaction from AfriForum, the organisation which is, effectively, a white – and Afrikaans – lobby group.
AfriForum says that moves to introduce names which are more culturally diverse – and which promote multilingualism – are part of a “pro-English” transformation drive at the university. Tuks management has denied this is the intention.
There is no doubt AfriForum has cause to be concerned because many tertiary institutions have radically reduced the profile and role of Afrikaans over the past decade.
At the same time, however, this is no longer the ’50s when an Afrikaner-dominated government forced their language down the throats of others, including English-speaking whites. Yet that apartheid time warp still persists at Tuks, where many of the 29 official residences still carry Afrikaans names.
We don’t really understand the fuss. Surely Afrikaans, as a language and culture, is strong enough to withstand a few name changes? And Afrikaners themselves have proved before they thrive under conditions of adversity: the English tried, and failed, to destroy them.
And, what’s in a name, really?