The Constitutional Court has been told that Unisa removed Afrikaans as the language of teaching and learning to bring about equality among its students. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
The Constitutional Court has been told that Unisa removed Afrikaans as the language of teaching and learning to bring about equality among its students. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

AfriForum relentless in wanting Unisa to reinstate Afrikaans as language of teaching and learning

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published May 21, 2021

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Johannesburg - Unisa has told the Constitutional Court of the range of impracticalities it would face if compelled to reinstate Afrikaans as a language of teaching and learning alongside English.

Matthew Chaskalson SC, representing the university on Thursday, urged the apex court to “have regard to practical reality”.

The court heard Unisa’s bid to appeal a ruling that declared its new language policy unconstitutional and unlawful. The university lost to AfriForum at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) last year, prompting its appeal at the Constitutional Court.

Based on Unisa's language policy adopted in 2016, all students now receive tutorial material in English and have to write assignments and exams in the language.

AfriForum waged a legal fight to have the policy reversed.

The Afrikaans-rights group launched the case in 2016, and first lost to Unisa at the North Gauteng High Court. It went to the SCA and won.

Chaskalson told the Concourt that upholding the SCA ruling would bring about a range of problems for Unisa.

The SCA ruling required Unisa to reinstate Afrikaans learning and teaching overnight, he said.

“We sit today in a situation where we’re now five years down the line since Afrikaans was offered at Unisa.

“In those five years, Unisa has been administering its affairs, dealing with staffing issues, dealing with curriculum issues, dealing with resources issues without having to provide for Afrikaans language instruction.

“To turn the clock back to 2016 overnight, which is what the SCA judgment obliged, is simply not practical at all,” he added.

“Unisa needs to look at the resources. It’s going to have to hire people. It’s going to have to produce new materials,” said Chaskalson.

“Anyone who’s taught in a university knows that the materials that we use today are completely different to the materials used five years ago.

“To force this back on Unisa overnight in a way that the SCA did is really to impose an inappropriate burden on an organ of state,” said Chaskalson.

Unisa removed Afrikaans to bring about equality among its students, the apex court heard.

“In this case AfriForum invokes section 29(2) of the Constitution in an attempt to preserve historical privilege bequeathed by apartheid.

“AfriForum wants Unisa to subsidise Afrikaans home language learners at the expense of all other learners,” Chaskalson said.

Alfred Cockrell SC, for AfriForum, told the Bench Unisa’s submissions on the implications of returning Afrikaans were flawed by lack of costing.

He drew the justices’ attention to Stellenbosch University’s (SU) costing exercise in a similar case.

SU demonstrated to the Constitutional Court in 2019 that maintaining Afrikaans as a medium of instruction alongside English would cost it R78 million a year.

Said Cockrell: “They worked out to the last rand how much it would cost them to continue their existing policy and they put those facts to the court.

“With respect, that is not something that Unisa has done. You will hunt through this record in vain to find any reference to what the costs are of continuing the old language policy.”

Cockrell said AfriForum wanted Unisa to continue with the old regime that saw it offering Afrikaans learning in 300 of its 2 300 modules.

He said Unisa carried on as if this case was about requiring it to offer tuition in Afrikaans in all modules.

“That has never been AfriForum’s case,” said Cockrell. Judgment was reserved.

The Star

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