[lg policy] In defence of Afrikaans

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu Jan 11 10:43:43 EST 2018

 In defence of Afrikaans Does the constitutional court’s support for a
university’s English language of instruction policy deal with what has
become a facilitator of racial tension, or does it hurt multilingualism?
11 January 2018 - 05:40 Claudi Mailovich
[image: Picture: ISTOCK]
Picture: ISTOCK

Economic Freedom Fighters spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi tweeted from inside
SA’s apex court on the third last day of December: "Afrikaans just fell
here in constitutional court."

In one swift judgment the court relocated Afrikaans to the sidelines of the
University of the Free State’s lecture halls.

The university, once an Afrikaans-only institution, adopted a new language
policy in 2016. It made English the sole language of instruction, and
dropped Afrikaans as its partner — except where the need existed to keep
Afrikaans classes, such as in the departments of education and theology,
and in tutorial classes.

This policy was first reviewed and set aside by the high court in
Bloemfontein, but when taken on appeal to the supreme court of appeal in
the city, the court held that the monolingual policy should be implemented.
This led lobby group AfriForum and trade union Solidarity to take the
battle to the constitutional court.

Afrikaans a language of instruction has been an issue at various
universities in SA

Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng wrote the majority judgment, which stated
that Afrikaans had, once again — but this time inadvertently — led to
segregation. Mogoeng emphasised the need for context on an issue that had
the potential to divide South Africans on racial lines or worsen
pre-existing divisions.

The context in this matter includes looking into SA’s history: Afrikaans,
as medium of instruction, was forced upon black South Africans, an event
that led to the 1976 student uprisings during apartheid.

Mogoeng said former education minister Kader Asmal developed a language
policy framework for higher education institutions. It underscored the need
for multilingualism, expressing support for the retention and development
of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, as long as it did not unjustly
deprive others of access to higher education and wittingly or unwittingly
become an instrument for racial or narrow cultural discrimination.
Top court confirms Free State University’s English-only language policy
The Constitutional Court ruling is a setback for Afriforum — though
Afrikaans will still be used in tutorials, and in certain departments
13 days ago

This, the court found, was indeed the case. "The university is in effect
saying that President [Nelson] Mandela’s worst nightmares have come to
pass. The use of Afrikaans has unintentionally become a facilitator of
ethnic or cultural separation and racial tension. And this has been so from
around 2005 to 2016. Its continued use would leave us with the results of
white supremacy not being addressed but kept alive and well," Mogoeng wrote
in the majority judgment, explaining why the university’s policy revision
had become necessary.

Debate about Afrikaans as a language of instruction has not been an issue
at the University of the Free State only. Protests at traditionally
Afrikaans institutions like Stellenbosch and Pretoria challenged the
hegemony of white Afrikaans culture in university communities.

Only two justices supported a dissenting judgment, penned by Judge Johan
Froneman. He took issue with the fact that the matter was not heard by oral
arguments, but was decided based on the written arguments filed in court.
He contended that factual issues were not cleared up in the written

I sincerely hope I am proved wrong, but I fear the main judgment’s
reasoning and content does not bode well for the establishment and
nurturing of languages other than Afrikaans and English as languages of
higher learning

"This has enormous implications beyond the confines of the university’s
campus," Froneman said, adding that it sanctions an approach that deprives
speakers of one of SA’s official languages of the constitutional right to
receive education in the language of their choice. This, Froneman said, had
not yet been dealt with authoritatively by the court. He said it was a
novel matter to find that the mere exercise of a language can amount to
unfair racial discrimination that would justify taking away that right. And
for Froneman, this was a clear situation of merely taking it away.

The court was split across racial lines in this judgment.

Afrikaans took a significant through the judgment, but Froneman warned the
collateral damage of the judgment could be to the development of the other
official languages. "I sincerely hope I am proved wrong, but I fear the
main judgment’s reasoning and content does not bode well for the
establishment and nurturing of languages other than Afrikaans and English
as languages of higher learning. It may well be that it is better for the
country to concentrate on the inclusiveness that English might bring as the
sole language of instruction — but that is a choice that ought to be made
by the public rather than this court," Froneman said.

Rakwena Monareng, CEO of the Pan SA Language Board, established to promote
multilingualism, lamented the judgment.

It "doesn’t speak well when it comes to the development of official
languages other than English", and was contrary to the national agenda of
multilingualism, Monareng said. "We need to decide whether we want
multilingualism or not.

"If we want to scrap it, let’s say it."

mailovichc at businesslive.co.za


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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