Afrikaans as university subject (GUC, UCOFS, UOFS, UFS)

The Grey University College (GUC) was founded in 1904 while the Free State was still a British colony, the Orange River Colony and English the only official language. It was also the language of examinations of the University of the Cape of Good Hope, the body which conducted specific school examinations such as the matriculation examination and the examinations of all the South African university colleges.

It is therefore understandable that English was initially the only language medium at the GUC. However, from the start already, Dutch was one of the subjects taught at the college. The first rector, Dr Johannes Brill, was one of the early linguists who pointed out that Afrikaans was not an incorrect Dutch or a backward dialect, but had originated according to normal linguistic laws like any other language. This he did during a lecture by him in Bloemfontein in May 1875. He regarded Afrikaans, and not Dutch, as the lingua franca of Afrikaans-speaking people. The lecture supported convictions of the language activists, who founded the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (GRA – Association of True Afrikaners).

Prof Adriaan Francken, BA, who initially had to teach Dutch, German and History at the GUC, also had ties with the language movement. In 1907, he was one of the founders of the society Onze Taal (Our Language) in Bloemfontein and in 1909 one of the Free State representatives at the language conference in Bloemfontein, where the Zuid-Afrikaanse Akademie voor Taal, Letteren en Kunst (South African Academy for Language, Literature and arts) was founded.

In 1910 he got help from Dr DF Malherbe, who was then appointed as professor in modern languages, which included Dutch, German, French and Germanic philology. At that point, Malherbe was already widely known as one of the young scholars who campaigned for the recognition of Afrikaans as cultural language. His presentation titled “Is Afrikaans ’n dialekt?” (Is Afrikaans a dialect?), delivered on 12 October 1906 to a large audience at the English-orientated Wellington, established him as one of the intellectual leaders of the language movement. He made a strong plea for Afrikaans as language of writing.

However, it would only be in 1919 that Afrikaans became one of the subjects at the GUC. In 1918, the university system in South Africa changed with the founding of the Universities of Stellenbosch, Cape Town and South Africa. The GUC was (as, amongst others, the later University of Pretoria) one of the constituent colleges of the University of South Africa. On 6 September 1918, the GUC council decided to institute a professoriate in Afrikaans. The registrar offered the position to Malherbe on 9 September 1918. A few weeks later, Stellenbosch University took a similar decision, and appointed JJ Smith.

From 1919 to 1921, Afrikaans was part of the subject Dutch; according to the 1919 yearbook it was “a supplementary subject to Dutch.”

In 1922, the name of the subject was changed to Hollands and the name remained until 1949. The heading of the syllabus for Dutch in 1922 read, “‘Hollands’ omvat zowel Afrikaans als Nederlands” (‘Hollands’ incorporates Afrikaans as well as English).

The name of the subject changed once again later: in 1950 to Afrikaans en Nederlands (Afrikaans and Dutch) (although still indicated in the regulations for the degree as Hollands); from 1951 to 1970, Afrikaans-Nederlands (Afrikaans-Dutch); and from 1971 Afrikaans en Nederlands (Afrikaans and Dutch).

According to Malherbe, Afrikaans “enjoyed popularity, which sometimes was a bit of a nuisance for a lecturer”. In Die Volksblad of 29 November 1923, he wrote that the subject attested to “an increasingly stronger cohort of students who flocked to the Afrikaans classes with exemplary inspiration – based on career considerations, or because of the requirements of syllabus regulations, or eventually – and this was a welcome sign in our university evolution – based on purely personal preference.”

Malherbe was publically known in particular as poet and novelist such as Die meulenaar (1926) and Hans-die-Skipper (1929). From October 1928 until June 1929, he was acting rector, and from June 1929 until June 1934 rector of the GUC. Most of the subjects were presented in English and Malherbe was the leader of a minority group of members of the senate who campaigned for equal treatment of Afrikaans and English as medium of instruction. During the 1940s, it became a struggle for the Afrikaansification of the University College of the Orange Free State (UCOFS), the name of the college from April 1935.

Fellow activists for Afrikaans were Prof H van der Merwe Scholtz, who had promoted at the Rijksuniversiteit of Utrecht in the Netherlands and was appointed as lecturer in 1927 and in 1931 as professor in Dutch at the GUC. In 1931 and 1932, the poet and novelist, CM van den Heever was also a lecturer, and after him a literary historian, Elizabeth Conradie, followed by Benedictus Kok, one of Malherbe’s former students in linguistics, who had passed his doctoral examination at the Rijksuniversiteit of Utrecht and attained his doctorate in South Africa.

At the end of 1941, Malherbe retired and he was succeeded as head of department by Kok. In 1943, the subject boasted three lecturers: Scholtz, Kok and WJ (Wessel) Badenhorst. In 1946, Scholtz was appointed as rector. Under his leadership the UCOFS became an Afrikaans college and in 1950 an Afrikaans university (the UOFS).

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Afrikaans-Dutch had five lecturers: Kok, who was the head of department, Badenhorst (Dutch), the dramatist Gerhard Beukes, the literary person, FV Lategan, who was also attached to the College of Education, and FIJ van Rensburg. In 1967, Kok became rector and Van Rensburg relocated as professor to the newly established Rand Afrikaans University (currently the University of Johannesburg).

Kok was succeeded as head of department by Badenhorst (1967-1972), who was succeeded by Beukes (1973-1978) and thereafter C van Heerden in 1979.

The department enjoyed good years in the two decades until round about 1990. Various lecturers were appointed and the projects started by some of them meant a lot for the prestige of the department.

A person who made a major contribution to this growth, was Prof WL (Wynand) Mouton, the rector from 1976 to 1988. His appointment was a milestone in the history of the UOFS. He vigorously promoted research and for the first time lecturers could have assistants.

The later heads of department were Profs JH Senekal (1980–1982), MCJ van Rensburg (1982–1988), HP (Hennie) van Coller (1989–2014) and currently Angelique van Niekerk (since 2015). Van Coller is one of the most productive Afrikaans literary persons in the country. He is the author of, amongst others, the collection of poems Soom (2012) and two volumes of literary essays, Tussenkoms and Tussenstand. He is also the editor of Perspektief en profiel and of a Dutch history of literature for South African universities.

The author and literary person, Charles Malan, was a dynamic lecturer, who had a major influence on young students.

Another well-known poet and translator, Daniel Hugo, was attached to the Department in the 1980s. Eight of his collections of poetry were published during his time at the UOFS.

Under Christo van Rensburg linguistic research boomed. He headed an HSRC investigation into Orange-River Afrikaans and Eastern-Border Afrikaans. With the assistance of Mouton he saw to it that Prof JC Steyn from the RAU was appointed as researcher. In this capacity he could, amongst others, write the biographies of NP van Wyk Louw, MER and Piet Cillié, former editor of Die Burger.

Other lecturers were Profs Johan Lubbe, who later headed the Department of General Linguistics, Gert van Jaarsveld, Louis Venter, Dolf van Zuydam and Theo du Plessis, as well as Drs Andries Klopper, Louis van Eeden and André Viviers. In 2010, the staff comprised Profs Hennie Van Coller, Alf Jenkinson and Bernard Odendaal (whose collection of poems Onbedoelde land was published in 2007), Drs Angelique van Niekerk (currently professor), Annette de Wet, Anthea van Jaarsveld, Mathilda de Beer, Corlietha Swart, Irma Loock and Burgert Senekal. Since 2010, Irma Loock, Annette de Wet and Burgert Senekal and Anthea van Jaarsveld have been redeployed to other departments and Mathilda de Beer and Corlietha Swart left the service of the university. At the end of 2014, Hennie van Coller retired. Since 2015, Dr Francois Smith, author of the award-winning novel Kamphoer, has joined the department, and from 2016, the award-winning and well-known Prof Henning Pieterse has become part of the staff cohort. During 2018 Dr Mathildie Smit and miss Alison Stander joined the department as lecturers.

Since 1998, Afrikaans and Dutch have joined forces with German and French to become the extended Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French. The head of the division French is Prof Naòmi Morgan, assisted by Dr Albertus Barkhuizen as colleague, while the head of division German is Prof Cilliers van den Berg (holding two doctoral degrees – in German and in Dutch), as well as his current colleague, Dr Trudie Strauss. In both the latter divisions, academics of note (e.g. Prof Klaus von Delft, Ingrid Smuts, Prof Hannes Joubert and Eugene Visagie) has left an indelible legacy. In the 1990s, the name of the university was changed to University of the Free State.


T: +27 51 401 2240 or

Marizanne Cloete: +27 51 401 2592

Katlego Mabulana: +27 51 401 2495
Juanita Hlongwane: +27 51 401 3269

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