[lg policy] South Africa: Jonathan Jansen's views at variance with the Constitution

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 5 14:42:03 UTC 2013

Jonathan Jansen's views at variance with the Constitution
Advocate Jacques du Preez
 03 October 2013

 Jacques du Preez notes that the Bill of Rights says that everyone has
right to be schooled in the official language of their choice


Remarks made by Prof Jonathan Jansen - Rector of the University of the Free
State - in the Percy Baneshik Memorial Lecture to the English Academy of
South Africa on 18 September, have caused a furore in Afrikaans cultural
and educational circles. They have been widely interpreted as a call for
English-only education and as a claim that "Afrikaans‐exclusive or even
Afrikaans‐dominant white schools and universities represent a serious
threat to race relations in South Africa".

Jansen said that "one major solution to the long-term resolution of the
crisis in education" would be to "instruct every teacher and every child in
English from the first day of school rather than add to the burden of poor
instruction in the mother‐tongue in the foundation years to the trauma of
transition to English later on".

Jansen has since then insisted that "his careful argument on language in
education has been distorted to create a media hype". Nevertheless, it may
be helpful to remind participants in the debate about what the Constitution
actually says regarding language and education.

Section 6(1) of the Founding Provisions of the Constitution enshrine
English - along with 10 other languages - as one of the official languages
of the Republic. No one disputes that it would be unconstitutional for any
school (or other academic institution) to implement exclusivity on the
basis of race, and, similarly, if it was unfair, on the basis of language.
Neither does anyone really dispute the idea that English is the *lingua
franca* and thus, as Jansen proposes, should be the language of

However, Prof Jansen's apparent proposal that a long-term solution to the
education crisis would be exclusive English education - from the foundation
phase - cannot be reconciled with the Constitution's provision for
multilingualism and for the space that it clearly provides for education in
any of our official languages - also in single-medium education

It can also not be reconciled with UFS's own language policy - which is
based on recognition of the language provisions in the Constitution.

Section 29(2) of the Bill of Rights states that everyone has the right to
receive education in public educational institutions (schools and tertiary
institutions) in the official language or languages of their choice, where
that education is reasonably practicable. Consequently, the state must
consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single medium
institutions, taking into account equity, practicality and the need to
redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.

Section 29(3)(a) of the Bill of Rights is clear: everyone has the right to
establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational
institutions, as long as they do not discriminate on the basis of race.

The *South African Schools Act of 1996* - which applies to all school
education in the Republic - defines in clear terms [section 6(2)] that the
governing bodies of public schools determine the language policy of such
schools, subject to the Constitution, the Schools Act and any other
applicable provincial legislation. The caveat on school governing bodies'
prerogative to determine such language policy can be found in section 6(3),
which determines that no form of racial discrimination may be practiced
when a language policy is established according to this article (of the

Where a governing body thus fulfills its duties and powers in legal manner
concerning the determination of a language policy, and the policy is
consistent with the Constitution, it can hardly be said that unfair
discrimination will follow.

Poor mother-tongue education is indeed a problem (but this is very seldom
the case in Afrikaans schools). It has also been shown - fairly
conclusively - that mother-tongue education during the first six to seven
years of schooling achieves far better educational outcomes than education
in a second language - even with regard to learning the second language
(English) for use in high school.

The poor state of mother-tongue teaching could also be addressed by
carrying out the provisions of section 6(2) of the Constitution, which
"because of the historically diminished use and status of the indigenous
languages of our people" requires the state to "take practical and positive
measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these languages".
Mother-tongue education in these languages, and the development of
much-needed infrastructure in this regard could be viewed as a form of
practical and positive measures to increase the status and use of those

Also, the root of the educational crisis is not primarily the language of
education but the failure of policy. If we hypothesise that only English
were to be used in the South African education system as the medium of
education, it still would not help with the current education crisis in the
long-term. Particularly if learners are without textbooks halfway through
the academic year, without computers or electricity, without basic
sanitation, without proper classrooms - and with teachers who do not have
basic reading or writing skills - whether in English or any other language.

In this regard Prof Jansen is correct: a race and class-based system of
exclusion is detrimental to poor, black students. This (and other problems
within the South African education system as mentioned above) touch on the
failure of education policy* *and have nothing to do with language in a
constitutional order in which all South Africans enjoy equal language

We cannot accept that it was Prof Jansen's intention to express views that
are so much at variance with the Constitution, his own university's policy
and with his own laudable record in promoting reconciliation and positive
relations between our communities. Surely, in the light of the tragic
experience of 1976, he did not mean that South African schoolchildren
should once again be forced to study in a language that they do not regard
as their own?

We accordingly must accept his explanation that "he was misquoted" and that
"media hype" is to blame.


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