Pretoria - The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, on Thursday afternoon reserved judgment in the application by lobby group AfriForum to set aside the new all-English language policy adopted in June this year by the University of Pretoria.
A full bench (three judges) heard arguments by AfriForum that the decision by the Council and the Senate to abolish Afrikaans in future as a language of tuition, was unconstitutional.
Advocate Johan du Toit argued on behalf of AfriForum that until recently Afrikaans was offered as a medium of instruction at UP.
But in June this year, the UP Council decided to adopt the new language policy of only English as the language of instruction. Du Toit said the removal of Afrikaans is not justifiable, as it remained reasonably practicable to offer Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
He argued that the Constitution granted people the right to be tutored in the language of their choice, in cases where it is reasonable practical to do so.
Du Toit said about 18% of students enrolled at the UP prefer Afrikaans as a language of tuition and this should have been considered by the Council before it decided to change the policy.
But Advocate Gilbert Marcus, on behalf of UP, said it was high time that the language policy changed. He said under the apartheid regime Afrikaans was the medium of tuition and statistics showed that the number of Afrikaans speaking students at this institution, was on the decline.
According to data it appeared that between next year and 2019, 2.8% less white students will be studying at UP. He said by all indications, the demand for Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at UP is likely to continue to decline.
Statistics also show that where Afrikaans has not already been overtaken as the language of preference among the University’s academic staff, the preference of Afrikaans among the students is steadily on the decline.
“It is a matter of public record that South Africa’s tertiary education system is presently experiencing a crisis. One of the major reasons for this arises from a perceived failure on the part of universities to be adequately inclusive,” Marcus said.
He referred to the Constitutional Court which remarked during one of its judgments that “Continuing disparities in assessing resources and quality education perpetuate socio-economic disadvantage thereby reinforcing and entrenching historical inequity. The question we face as a society is not whether, but how, to address this problem of uneven access to education.”
Marcus said UP’s new language policy was designed to address exactly this problem. According to him this application seek to reverse this process, simply because 18% of the students enrolled at UP, preferred Afrikaans.