Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi should not hold a job in government if he regards the choice to speak Afrikaans and the creation of a private Afrikaans-medium university as ‘racist’.

And that’s exactly how he sees it.

Lesufi took to Twitter – reposting a video showing men breaking ground for a new private Afrikaans-language university – to say: ‘There is no room in a non-racial South Africa for reminders of apartheid.’

He was responding to the announcement by trade union Solidarity of its plans to roll out a project to build alternative educational and work opportunities, one of which is a university.

Exploiting every anti-Afrikaans shibboleth he could, he added: ‘I just hate racism when I see one! (sic) A race-based institution in a non-racial society won’t succeed. Please don’t remind us about apartheid.’

Twitter, as per usual, was split. In response to those who said there was nothing wrong with an Afrikaans-medium university, Lesufi went into full social justice mode in saying, ‘It is not innocent, unfortunately. They are angry because RAU, Tukkies, Stellenbosch, etc are now accommodating other races and languages. We can’t go back to RAUs whether private or public, non-racialism is the future. Let’s defend it.’

It’s well known that Lesufi is a proponent of doing away with private education and ensuring that all education is provided for by the State. He would like to do to education what the ruling party is doing to land reform, health and pension funds.

But there is one unassailable fact, (and let’s be so bold as to call it a fact) that no one would trust the African National Congress (ANC) to run these mammoth public programmes in any way that is likely to succeed and certainly in no way that will produce anything like good outcomes.

Presumably, then, in order to get their hands on everything people hold dear, the ANC is going to have to change the Constitution to make sure that using after-tax money to create institutions that we as individuals would like to create is rendered impermissible.

If he sees the speaking of Afrikaans and the creation of a private Afrikaans-medium university as ‘racist’, Lesufi is clearly consumed by racism himself, and thus should not hold a job in government.

The motive that Lesufi ascribes to the creation of an Afrikaans-medium institution is neither relevant nor pertinent. It doesn’t matter whether people are now angry that Pretoria’s official language is English with some accommodation for Afrikaans and Sotho, that Stellenbosch has become an English-medium university, or that the University of the Free State’s decision to go English-medium was supported by the Constitutional Court on a specious basis, given the absence of evidence to support the university’s claim.

The point that must clearly be repeated over and over again is that private citizens are wholly entitled to spend after-tax money on building a university for teaching in the medium of instruction that they choose. It has absolutely nothing to do with Lesufi.

If Lesufi is reminded of apartheid every time he hears Afrikaans spoken – and if he thinks just the very breaking of ground for said university evokes the spectre of apartheid – then he is either too delicate to function in this society or he takes virtue signalling to new heights.

Quite apart from the fact that universities are not his area of competence, Lesufi can in no way assume that every student who chooses to attend the university will be white.

Clearly, the one natural consequence of this attitude is the possibility of negative consequences for Muslim schools, Jewish day schools and European language private schools.

The further absurdity is the corollary that, for Lesufi and people who think like him – like the Nelson Mandela Foundation with respect to the old flag – the very existence of whites may seem to them an act of racism and may, as they see it, justify their being banned, or worse. 

After the furore over his Twitter remarks at the weekend, Lesufi seemed to change his tune yesterday, tweeting: ‘I’ve just enrolled for my Afrikaans lessons. The way I am so misunderstood by our fellow citizens I felt I should polish my Afrikaans knowledge so that we can work together for a truly non-racial South Africa.’

But does this mean he repudiates the sentiments he expressed just a day earlier? If not, what’s the point?

Sara Gon is the head of strategic engagement at the IRR.

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