The Unisa main campus in Muckleneuk. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
The Unisa main campus in Muckleneuk. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Mixed reaction to judgment reinstating Afrikaans as learning, teaching medium at Unisa

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Sep 27, 2021

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Pretoria - While the EFF has rejected the Constitutional Court judgment to reinstate Afrikaans as a learning and teaching medium at Unisa, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) welcomed and supported the decision.

The Constitutional Court ruled last week in favour of AfriForum, following a five-year legal battle after Unisa decided to discontinue Afrikaans as a language of teaching and learning.

The battle was first heard in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, and later made a turn in the Supreme Court of Appeal, before it was finally heard by the Concourt.

The apex court, in its judgment, highlighted the history and development of Afrikaans as a language unique to South Africa. It stressed that references to Afrikaans as a “white man’s language” were erroneous and inconsistent with history.

READ: Afrikaans retained as primary language of instruction at Unisa

While acknowledging that Afrikaans “was undeniably employed as a tool of oppression”, the court recognised that Afrikaans had now been adopted into a heterogeneous rainbow language spoken by many South Africans. It was thus deserving of protection and promotion, the court said.

The court remarked that Afrikaans was also spoken by black people in not only so-called coloured townships, but also in many African townships in several regions in the country.

It also pointed out the shameful denial of the Cape Muslim origins of the language.

The court contended that the decision by Unisa to phase out Afrikaans in its 2016 language policy was not appropriately justified as it adversely affected the rights of Afrikaans students per the Constitution.

The court also held that Unisa did not provide evidence in support of its decision to discontinue the use of Afrikaans.

In removing Afrikaans as a language of teaching and learning without applying its mind to the considerations in section 29(2) of the Constitution, Unisa fell short of its constitutional obligations.

The SAHRC, in reaction, said it viewed this judgment as empowering for poor and marginalised Afrikaans speakers who sought access to higher education.

The commission said it was also cognisant of the fact that Afrikaans had been used in the past, by a minority, to subjugate and marginalise other South Africans. Accordingly, the language was still viewed with mixed feelings by many people within the country.

“However, in this democratic era we should reflect on our past with a deep lens and should seek to celebrate our diversity. Our Constitution makes provision for Afrikaans as an official language and enjoins the state to take reasonable measures to ensure that everyone receives education in a language of their choice,” the commission said.

As such the status of all official languages was protected and the commission believed that the judgment would go a long way towards promoting multilingualism in South Africa.

The EFF, meanwhile, said the court ignored the linkage between race and language in the context of South Africa’s history.

The party called on Unisa to, in the grace period to 2023 determined by the court, lawfully and procedurally take steps to do away with Afrikaans.

Pretoria News

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