Civil rights group AfriForum is taking the University of SA (Unisa) to court this week to stop the implementation of its new English-only policy. The application will be argued in the urgent court of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
The organisation last week obtained an order from a full bench of the high court in Bloemfontein setting aside the University of the Free State (UFS) decision to abolish Afrikaans as a medium of instruction on all levels. The full bench found the UFS policy was unconstitutional, as it would violate Afrikaans speakers’ constitutional right not to have their existing access to Afrikaans higher education interfered with.
It further found that the policy contravened the ministerial policy on higher education and would not benefit African students.
The judges said the UFS had to take into account what was fair and feasible and could not take away or diminish the right of Afrikaans speakers to receive education in Afrikaans in order to increase the English offering.
They criticised the university for contending it would rather offer poorer-quality tuition to all students than to make efforts to improve the quality of tuition offered in English classes, stressing that something needed to be done in South Africa to promote other indigenous languages as languages of instruction. The UFS maintained the primary reason for the adoption of the new language policy was to cure segregation.
The university wants to appeal the ruling, but AfriForum said it would oppose any appeal bid. In April, Unisa adopted a language policy determining that English would, from 2017 onwards, be the sole language of learning and tuition. AfriForum maintained in court papers the decision would deprive 24 000 distance-learning students who preferred Afrikaans as a medium of instruction of their existing rights.
The organisation said that in 2015 Unisa had 30 458 students who listed Afrikaans as their home language and another 7 245 with English and Afrikaans as their home languages.
AfriForum maintained that Unisa had the ability to continue offering Afrikaans and English parallel medium and argued the university had not followed proper participation procedures before adopting the policy, which they said sought to amend the consensus on which South Africa’s constitution was built. AfriForum’s Alana Bailey said court papers contesting the University of Pretoria’s new language policy had been drawn up and their lawyers were also studying Stellenbosch University’s language policy.