[lg policy] AfriForum loses Unisa court battle

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed May 2 10:14:03 EDT 2018

AfriForum loses Unisa court battle

Pretoria News <https://www.iol.co.za/pretoria-news> / 2 May 2018,
08:06am / *ZELDA

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Unisa. picture: Thobile Mathonsi/ANA
LOBBY group AfriForum has yet to decide on whether it will appeal against
last week’s Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, judgment that English remains the
only language of tuition at Unisa.

AfriForum chief executive Alana Bailey said the judgment came as a great

“The verdict is not in line with developments in the field of language
rights currently taking place nationally and internationally,” Bailey said.

“Worldwide there is an increasing need for the promotion of more mother
languages and the development of multilingual environments wherein greater
social cohesion and better academic achievements are attained.

"However, South African government departments and most universities
unfortunately do not take note of this, but continue rushing ahead along a
monolingual path.”

According to Bailey, the Draft Revised Language Policy for Higher Education
recently published for public comment, displayed an encouraging
understanding of the complexity of the language situation in South Africa -
and the need for the use of more languages for teaching and administration
purposes at universities.

AfriForum earlier turned to court to review and set aside Unisa’s
English-only policy.

According to the language policy, English has since the start of last year
been the only language of instruction at the institution. Unisa made it
clear that it was doing away with Afrikaans as a study medium as part of
its policy and for practical reasons.

AfriForum, however, said this left between 25000 and 30000
Afrikaans-speaking students without the option to conduct their studies in
their mother tongue.

Unisa’s administration went ahead with the implementation of its new
language policy last year after the court, in 2016, turned down an
application by AfriForum to suspend the implementation of the English-only
language policy, pending the review proceedings.

Judge Roland Sutherland at the time concluded that first-year and other
Afrikaans students would not suffer irreparable harm if English remained
the only medium until the court had spoken the last word on review.

Unisa vice-chancellor Professor Mandla Makhanya issued a circular in June
2016 in which he announced that the university’s new policy was that
learning was now restricted to English.

Advocate Johan du Toit SC for AfriForum argued that this decision was made
without Unisa’s Senate calling for any public participation.

But Judge Raylene Keightley, in turning down AfriForum’s application, said
while Unisa was free to call for public participation, it was not bound to
do so.

Du Toit also argued that the case of Unisa was different to that of the
University of the Free State, where the Constitutional Court held that it
had to continue teaching in English.

The Constitutional Court last December said the use of Afrikaans
unintentionally became a facilitator of ethnic or cultural separation and

Judge Keightley found that Unisa’s Senate acted in accordance with the
rules when it adopted the English-only language policy.

She said the new language policy has been in place since last year - more
than a full academic year and at least three semesters.

She referred to arguments on behalf of Unisa, in which it said that if the
court now ruled against it, it would not be practically possible to revert
back overnight to the position it was in at the start of the 2016 academic

The judge commented that there has been a natural decline in the demand for
Afrikaans tuition in recent years. “It is inevitable that there would be a
further reduction of demand as a consequence of Unisa having offered
English-only tuition since the start of 2017.

“To turn back the clock would have obvious practical, resource and cost
implications for Unisa for the benefit of an ever diminishing small number
of students.”

The judge said the English-only policy furthered equity and is a
significant step towards addressing the wrongs of the past.

However, she said unfortunately English still retained a privileged status
at the institution for purely pragmatic reason


 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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