Luister – Listen – is a new film about race, language and exclusion at one of South Africa’s premier universities. Some thirty students talk about everyday acts of prejudice that make them feel unwanted:

Luister – the Afrikaans word for Listen – is a documentary about the lives of students of colour who attend Stellenbosch University, a South African institution of higher learning. In a series of interviews, students recount instances of racial prejudice that they continue to experience in the town of Stellenbosch, and the enormous challenges that they face due to the use of Afrikaans as a language of teaching at the university. Luister is a film about Afrikaans as a language and a culture. It is a film about the continuing racism that exists within a divided society. It is a film about a group of students whose stories have been ignored.

Luister was made by Contraband Cape Town, and is on Youtube. It’s well worth its thirty minutes. The link is here.

One of the issues that the Stellenbosch students raise is the injustice of the “accommodation” that requires them to listen to lectures by means of simultaneous translation. Anyone who has been to an academic conference where papers are read in a language they do not understand will know what they mean. Whatever the interpreter’s skill, listening under such circumstances is complex, inexact and exhausting; a dominant incomprehensible voice and a whispered, inexact, interpretation with a time lag. With justification, Luister asks why students, paying fees to attend a public university in the country of their birth, should be made to feel like unwanted foreigners.

It would be easy to see Luister and the race and language issues it raises as a local problem. But the intimate relationship between language codes and exclusion is far more general and is grounded in a strong and long tradition of scholarship. This eloquent and compelling set of interviews has a relevance that is far wider than Stellenbosch’s particular history and complex politics.



Jenna Etheridge “Stellenbosch student: Being black is a social burden” News24 22 August 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s