Language rights battle

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AFTER several high-profile legal battles involving language rights, you would think South African universities would have got the message that they cannot summarily discount Afrikaans as a language of instruction.

The issue is continually rearing its head, with several cases played out over the years at traditionally Afrikaans universities, including Stellenbosch University, the University of Pretoria (Tuks) and more recently the University of the Free State (UFS).

Rather than being prompted by practical academic realities, these university administrations have been pressured and cowed by loud and aggressive student members of the ANC and EFF, each trying to outdo the other in what is essentially a race-based war against Afrikaans.

It is as though they want to join a struggle a generation after it was started in 1976, and won in 1994. No-one is compelled to learn in a language they do not want to be educated in anymore.

Rather, this is a movement to marginalise and exclude Afrikaans-speakers from being able to learn in their mother tongue.

After losing a legal battle last year that required it to go back to the drawing board about its language policy, the council of Stellenbosch University announced last month that it would go ahead and phase out Afrikaans as primary language of instruction.

On the same day, the Tuks council decided that English will be the primary language of instruction at the university as of next year.

Afrikaner civil rights group AfriForum has been fighting the battle to preserve language rights on several fronts.

A week ago, the organisation and its youth arm welcomed a judgment by the High Court in Bloemfontein which set aside the decision of the UFS senate and council to similarly phase out Afrikaans by next year.

But the UFS said they would appeal. AfriForum will oppose the appeal.

This week Unisa entered the fray, sounding very much like the other universities, with a new policy determining that Afrikaans will not be used as medium of instruction from next year.

AfriForum filed an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court to prevent this, and arguments were heard yesterday.

Alana Bailey, deputy CEO of AfriForum, said the verdict by the Bloemfontein High Court with regards to the UFS language policy, underlined that a university has a constitutional duty to offer education in the language of students’ choice where it is practically achievable, and that if education is already offered in Afrikaans, it proves practical achievability.

In 2015 more than 30 000 Unisa students indicated that Afrikaans is their mother tongue. A further 7 000 students mentioned that they speak both Afrikaans and English at home. About 24 000 students currently receive education in Afrikaans at Unisa.

Will justice and good sense prevail?

– Jon Houzet

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