The highest court in the land was now poised to be the final arbiter in the raging battle by Afrikaans lobby groups to have the language reinstated as a parallel medium of instruction at a number of universities.
SU will square off at the court with Gelyke Kanse, a lobby group that wants the Western Cape-based institution to reinstate Afrikaans as a parallel medium of instruction.
Gelyke Kanse brought an application aiming to set aside a high court ruling that favoured the university’s 2016 decision to adopt English as its single medium of instruction.
In a founding affidavit filed at the Constitutional Court, the group’s counsels, Jan Heunis and Karrisha Pillay, argued that the university’s new language policy was inconsistent with the constitution.
The constitution granted everyone a right to be educated in an official language of their choice, provided this was practical, they said. “We submit that the ongoing annihilation of Afrikaans as a language of instruction does not accord with the positive obligation imposed on national government by section 6(4) of the constitution.”
They further accused the university of not dumping Afrikaans for transformation purposes, but as a reaction to the growing number of white, English-speaking students and lecturers.
“That the Anglicisation of the SU had little to do with transformation is evident, for example by the fact that 85% of the English-speaking students who entered SU between 1995 and 2015 were white,” Heunis and Pillay said.
“Accordingly, we submit, the new language policy is aimed at addressing the needs of English-speaking white students, as opposed to students of colour.
“This does not meet the objectives of racial equity or integration.”
The university rejected this claim, saying the majority of its new students in recent years were black. “It is difficult to understand why this is relevant,” said SU’s counsels, Jeremy Muller and Nick de Jager, in their responding affidavit.
They said 63% of the institution’s first-year students in 2015 were blacks who did not write Afrikaans in matric. The majority of black African students could not learn in Afrikaans,” Muller and De Jager said.
The policy SU adopted in 2014, which used English and Afrikaans as parallel languages of instruction, was not favourable to black students.
“Whatever the reason for the increasing use of English at SU over earlier decades, the reality in 2016 was that the 2014 policy disproportionately denied black African students access to education,” argued Muller and De Jager.
AfriForum has waged - and lost - similar legal battles against Unisa, the University of Pretoria and Free State University. The North-West University was now the only university still using Afrikaans and English.
SU said Gelyke Kanse was barking up the wrong tree over phasing out of Afrikaans at the country’s universities.
“The applicants’ real concern - the nationwide decline in Afrikaans tertiary education - should be addressed by a challenge to the ministerial policy, not a challenge to individual universities’ language policies that are consistent with that policy.”
Constitutional Court registrar Kgwadi Makgakga has informed the parties that the matter will be heard on September 13.