Civil rights group AfriForum has lost its bid to stop South Africa’s only distance learning university Unisa from implementing its new English-only policy.
Judge Roland Sutherland yesterday in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria dismissed AfriForum’s application for an urgent interim interdict to stop the university from implementing its English-only policy.
AfriForum attorney Werner Human said their application to set aside the policy will, however, continue, and they hoped to have the matter before court before the end of the year.
Unisa opposed the application, saying the university was committed to making the aspiration of tuition in all 11 official languages a reality and had to use its resources for the best interest of its entire student body.
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He said the real importance of the new language policy was not in the treatment of Afrikaans, but in the treatment of indigenous languages.
Unisa argued that only 5.1% of Unisa’s students were taking a single module in Afrikaans and that it would be unfair towards other students to retain Afrikaans as a language of instruction.
Unisa accused AfriForum of attempting to preserve a historical position of a pre-democracy era and resisting Unisa’s attempt to place all languages on an equal footing in circumstances that could no longer be justified, either historically or practically.
The university also maintained that AfriForum had not managed to get a single affidavit by a student saying that the English-only policy was a real problem and that it had no legal standing to even argue the matter.
An earlier attempt by AfriForum to get an urgent interdict against Unisa was struck off the roll after the court ruled that it was not urgent, as the organisation had been tardy in approaching the court.
AfriForum has argued that if it eventually succeeded with the review application and an interim interdict was not granted, the right of students who wanted Afrikaans tuition would be lost forever.
The organisation argued the university had the capacity to continue offering Afrikaans classes.
Judge Sutherland said the offerings in Afrikaans at Unisa was already slender, as its 2010 policy already stipulated that there would only be an option to use Afrikaans in undergraduate courses and that all postgraduate courses were in English only.
He said existing students already had to put up with such a limitation and persons who had no relationship with Unisa yet could hardly claim greater legitimate expectations.
Unisa’s decision to further diminish the offering to zero created no new kinds of hazard, as it was always latent that the choice of language medium was limited, he said.