A high court judge in Pretoria has hammered the final nail in the coffin of Afrikaans as a language of tuition at the University of South Africa.
Judge Raylene Keightley this week dismissed an application by rights group AfriForum to set aside Unisa’s revised language policy, with English as the sole language of tuition from the start of last year.
AfriForum had asked the court to set aside Unisa’s 2016 decision, arguing that the policy was unfair as there had been no public consultation, and that it violated the constitutional guarantee of a qualified right to choose a language of tuition at a public education institution.
Unisa stated that there was a declining demand for Afrikaans and that they couldn’t tailor their resource distribution to meet the demands of only 5.1% of its Afrikaans students when weighed up against the demand of hundreds of thousand of students for English tuition.
Keightley referred at length to judgments by the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court, which both dismissed AfriForum’s attempt to have the University of the Free State’s English-only policy set aside.
The judge said it was clear that the right to be taught in a language of choice depended not only on the question of if existing resources made it technically practicable or possible, and that the right could be curtailed by the broader societal and constitutional considerations of equity and the need to redress past discrimination.
She said: “Universities play an important role as thought-leaders in society. Therefore, in my view it is acceptable and proper … for a university to consider how its policies reflect its role in the broader SA [and international] society.”
She said Afrikaans enjoyed a privileged status at Unisa in circumstances where a relatively small number of students were demanding tuition in Afrikaans, and a growing call for resources to develop the academic status of other African languages.
“It seems the removal of Afrikaans was justified on the basis of considerations of equality, practicability and the need to redress past racially discriminatory laws.”