awareness goes online

Inclusivity and engaged awareness of current affairs are important building blocks towards excellence at the NWU. Not even a pandemic can stop the university from speaking up about crucial issues such as gender and language.


This year, in response to the various challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the NWU went online to raise awareness about the role of both gender and language in creating a more equal South Africa.


In a joint online celebration, Gender Awareness Week and Language Awareness Week took place from 28 September to 2 October. The event was filled with exciting workshops, lectures by renowned local and global experts, group discussions, an online concert and even a dance session.


‘Speak my gender’ in poem, song and dance


The online concert showcasing staff and students’ impressive talents started off the week-long gender and language awareness event.


For the concert, which was titled “Speaking my gender”, each participant submitted a three-minute-long pre-recorded video expressing their interpretation of the concert theme through a poem, song, or dance.


The members of the audience were invited to cast their votes for their favourite performances. Click here to watch the concert.


Looking back at a successful event


The main organisers of the event, Prof Susan Coetzee-Van Rooy and Adv René Koraan, respectively from the faculties of Humanities and Law, says they appreciated the generosity of the students, staff and local and international experts who participated.


“They were willing to contribute their wisdom in the form of pre-recorded videos that were showcased during the event. The breadth and depth of everyone’s contributions added a lot to the success of the week.”


René and Susan say the joint gender and language awareness event brought out the following realisations:


  • There is great value in taking an intersectional approach to race, gender and language awareness events.
  • It is clear from the conversations that a lot more discussion is needed to develop nuanced thinking about these important topics. This highlights the need to offer awareness sessions.
  • Audience members expressed a need to move beyond “talk shows”. They were interested in talking about coordinating movements to advance nuanced thinking on race, gender and language at broader levels.
  • The organisers, presenters and members of the audience commented that conversations could be broadened to be more inclusive.


Susan says the students who contributed to the language awareness part of the week displayed a nuanced understanding of the relationship between language and society in their feedback.


Benjamin Truter said that the topic of the relationship between language and society interested him because of the complexity of economics, sociology, psychology and education, and how influential language is in it all.


“In terms of the history of language in the South African society, language was clearly a tool for oppression and indoctrination in South Africa, in academic and social spheres and in socio-economic spheres as well."


Carol Manyaapelo says South Africa is a multilingual society that has a linguistic problem due to the policies of apartheid.


She believes South Africans can overcome these linguistic difficulties by making greater use of African languages in higher education. "If there is a certain module that has a lot of academic material that has already been written in African languages, I do not see why the higher education institutions do not implement African languages in their curricula.”


Sherriff Ramphele encourages everyone to intellectualise African languages by promoting and respecting them. “We must write them, read them and teach learners about African languages.”


Visit this page for more information about Gender Awareness Week and Language Awareness Week, and to view the lectures and events that were part of it.



Courageous conversations


“The NWU wants to encourage critical conversations about the current affairs relating to gender-based violence and to expand its conversations about the use of South African languages in domains such as education and the media,” says Prof Robert Balfour, deputy vice-chancellor for teaching and learning.


He says this is why it was so important for staff and students to take part in the awareness event.







Adv René Koraan says that for her, the highlight of the week was the honest contributions of NWU students and staff to the “Speaking my gender” concert.

“The lingering influence of our colonial and apartheid history on present-day language attitude is disturbing to me. It was very valuable to trouble our language past in order to inspire the re-imagination of the use of languages in South Africa today,” says Prof Susan Coetzee-Van Rooy.