Concourt rules Afrikaans retained as primary language of instruction at Unisa
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Pretoria - The Constitutional Court yesterday ruled in favour of AfriForum in the case for the retention of Afrikaans as a primary language of instruction at Unisa.
However, it gave the university until 2023 to investigate how feasible this was. The case was heard by this court in May and judgment was reserved at the time.
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) had earlier ruled in favour of AfriForum on this issue with its judgment last year that Unisa’s language policy had not been adopted “in a constitutionally compliant manner”. The Concourt now upheld the SCA’s finding.
The apex court, however, allowed more time for the implementation of the ruling and for Unisa to assess whether Afrikaans should be retained.
Alana Bailey, AfriForum’s head of cultural affairs, said this judgment, which followed legal processes spanning more than five years, was of great importance to all Afrikaans-speaking students in the country, and also for the future of Afrikaans as a high-function language.
“This marks the beginning of a new chapter in the empowerment of all who are not first language speakers of English in tertiary education.
“It is fair to say that private educational institutions have freedom to offer education in any language of their choice, but to be used as the language of instruction at a tertiary institution is of great importance for the survival and continuous development of a language,” she said.
Bailey added that when any language was phased out at an institution, the decision had huge ramifications and could not be readily accepted.The Concourt confirmed this point with the ruling and confirmed the right to access Afrikaans mother-language education at both public and private institutions for students of all income groups, Bailey said.
The Concourt held that Unisa’s decision in 2016 to adopt the new language policy and discontinue Afrikaans as a language of learning and teaching, contravened the Constitution, thus rendering that decision invalid.
It, however, added that in this instance, Unisa as an organ of State must be afforded the opportunity to do the necessary feasibility investigations and then to decide what it regards as most reasonably practicable and then to implement the required changes.
The order of invalidity was therefore suspended until the start of the 2023 academic year.