The effort to change previously white universities into exclusive racial and cultural enclaves have received a major shot in the arm following a Constitutional Court ruling yesterday favouring the University of the Free state language policy in which English is the primary medium of instruction.
On Friday Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ruled that the institution’s language policy is lawful. Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng ruled against the Afrikaner civil right movement AfriForum’s application for leave to appeal a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling from March this year, also in favour of the policy.
In 2016, the University of the Free State adopted a new language policy. This saw English become the primary medium of instruction, replacing Afrikaans and English as parallel mediums of instruction.
The university’s main reason for departing from the parallel-medium policy was that it had the “unintended consequence” of segregating white Afrikaans-speaking students from black students who had chosen to study in English. It led to racial tensions, as well as staff and student complaints.
UFS Vice-chancellor Professor Francis Petersen welcomes the Friday ruling saying it has paved the way for the policy implemented. He said the policy has already been implemented in at least three faculties at first year level.
“I also want to say in the same vain as I articulated in a statement that we don’t see this a victory against Afrikaans. In fact we still continue to develop Afrikaans as an academic language”, said Petersen.
UFS Student Representative Council has also welcomed the ruling saying it was a boost for the university’s efforts to deal with language issues at the institution.
“This is something that for years we have longed and complained about to say that the dual language policy was not assisting in terms of redress and the transformation that needs to take place at the institution. We therefore welcome the judgment by the Constitutional Court. We think it is very clear and we want to also note and acknowledge the efforts of the University executive management for being resilient”, said SRC President Asive Dlanjwa,
The Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) has also welcomed the judgment.
In a statement following the ruling HETN said the CC decision set a legal precedent establishing official university policy certainty.
HETN said South Africa was a country with 11 official languages and all languages and cultures must be treated equally with respect.
AfriForum’s Alana Bailey said the judgment shows that languages of minorities are not protected.
“Indigenous languages are being marginalised while the colonial English language is being empowered more and more. This ruling proves that minorities are left on their own by government and that if we want to see our language rights realised, we will have to establish our own institutions privately.”