Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has upheld the legality of the University of the Free State’s decision to go from dual medium Afrikaans and English to an English medium education institution.
Mogoeng delivered judgment on a case brought to the Constitutional Court by AfriForum after the university last year adopted a new language policy.
In March this year, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the university’s new language policy.
The Chief Justice says that every student has a constitutional right to study in any official language of their choice but that the major challenge is that learning material in other languages are not accessible.
Judgment: The downgrading of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction by the UFS is constitutionally valid. (AfriForum and Another v University of The Free State)
According to Alana Bailey, Deputy CEO of AfriForum, arguments regarding the necessity of monolingual English education in order to avoid segregation and in the promotion of racial harmony on campuses, is inconsistent with internationally accepted language rights principles, as well as education best practices.
“The South African past (consider for example the events in Soweto in 1976), but also many other countries such as Bangladesh and Belgium, prove that denying students the right to study in their mother language might lead to increased tensions and even violence,” Bailey says.
She is of the opinion that students on campuses have to be sensitised to treat each other with respect and to recognise each other’s rights, including language rights. “This cannot be achieved by depriving anyone of their language rights and even less so by elevating English to be the only official language of tuition. With English monolingualism, only a tiny group of English-speaking students will be privileged, while the rest will have very little hope left that any indigenous language will develop further in future.”
“The focus on race is also invalid,” she adds. “According to the National Census of 2011, the majority of Afrikaans speakers are not white. In addition, South Africans were promised in negotiations leading up to the election of 1994 that there would be a departure from race-based arguments and that internationally recognised human rights (which would allegedly have been entrenched in the Constitution) would henceforth be the guiding light. This ruling however proves the opposite and once again emphasises that the development of strong independent institutions of learning by civil society has now become the primary course of action by means of which minorities will be able to promote and protect their rights,” Bailey concludes.
AfriForum will also continue highlighting the official disregard for language rights in South Africa on all possible international platforms.
Meanwhile the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) has hailed the ruling by the Constitutional Court on the University of the Free State’s language policy as a “positive step towards multilingualism”.
“The defeat of forces opposed to radical socio-economic transformation and cultural tolerance will assist reclaim unity, reconciliation, nation-building and social cohesion project.”
Sanco spokesperson Jabu Mahlangu said there is no turning back as the adoption of progressive language policies by universities that were enclaves of Afrikaner nationalism has deepened transformation.