A documentary titled Luister [Listen] tells the stories of black students and a lecturer's experiences at Stellenbosch University's Agricultural College, Eisenberg.

If the students assertions in the Luister video are true, this is a violation of the constitution, says Khaye Nkwanyana.

Johannesburg - The country has been in pain after the exposé by Stellenbosch University black students in the #Luister video. Among other racial prejudices mentioned in the interviews by students is the issue of dual language.

Many have been asking why Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande does not ban Afrikaans usage in all the former Afrikaans universities.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Section 6 (1), (2) and (4) of the Founding Provisions, states that “the state must take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these (the indigenous) languages” and that all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and be treated equitably.

The constitution enjoins the Pan South African Language Board to promote and create conditions for the development and use of these and other languages.

With regard to the provision of languages at institutions of higher learning, Section 29 (2) of the constitution states that “everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable”.

In order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of this right, the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single-medium institutions, taking into account equity, practicability and the need to redress results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.

These facts are stated so that there is a clear understanding on the obligations of the Minister of Higher Education and Training.

In terms of Section 27 (2) of the Higher Education Act (101 of 1997, as amended), the minister determines language policy for higher education.

In accordance with this legislation, each institution of higher education is required to establish its own language policy, guided by the constitution and Language Policy for Higher Education.

This requirement takes into account the autonomy of institutions to determine flexible language policies provided that such determination is within the context of public accountability and the minister’s responsibility to establish the parameters.

Although the Language Policy for Higher Education is designed to promote African languages in institutional policies and practices in higher education, it clearly does not make a determination for institutions to instruct in the various mother tongues.

It would be against the constitution if institutions were to instruct in a language that would disadvantage non-speakers of that particular language.

For example, English as a medium language of tuition allows access for all to our higher education institutions and therefore no one is prevented from accessing our higher education institutions if English is utilised as a language of instruction.

In terms of individual university language policies, multilingualism is supported. Currently, however, it is not practical to use languages other than English or Afrikaans as a medium of tuition, as these have not been developed as languages of instruction at school level. The language of instruction at most universities is therefore English, while most formerly Afrikaans institutions have a dual-language policy.

The action thus required is aggressive improvement of universities in developing indigenous languages. The promotion of multilingualism in the higher education sector is imperative as the constitution accords equal status to all our languages.

In this regard, the Language Policy for Higher Education published in November 2002 is the framework that guides the practices at these institutions.

The department is in the process of revising this policy to ensure that other South African languages can be developed to a level where they can enjoy parity in our universities.

We know it will be a tortuous task to develop our indigenous languages to academic languages that we can use to teach.

The real problem we are confronting at Stellenbosch University is the evidence that Afrikaans as a medium of instruction is prominently used to the disadvantage of its non-speakers.

In this case, if the students assertions in the video are true, this is a violation of the constitution. The minister has therefore wrote a letter to the University Council for it to account in this regard.

* Khaye Nkwanyana is spokesman for the Minister of Higher Education and Training.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent