ConCourt's language policy ruling will affect all mother tongues - Gelyke Kanse attorney

The Constitutional Court's ruling in the Stellenbosch University language policy case hinders mother-tongue education in the country, says the attorney representing lobby group Gelyke Kanse (Equal Opportunity).

Danie Rossouw was commenting after the court ruled in the university's favour on Thursday, finding that its process in adopting the 2016 policy was "thorough, exhaustive, inclusive and properly deliberative".

The policy seeks to adopt a preference for English in certain circumstances "so as to advance the university's goals of equal access, multilingualism and integration while also maintaining and preserving Afrikaans," the court found.

Gelyke Kanse initially approached the Western Cape High Court to set the policy aside and reinstate the 2014 policy which the High Court found was "not equitable as it denied black students not conversant in Afrikaans full access to the university".

The case later went to the Constitutional Court.

Equal footing

Speaking to the media after the ruling, Rossouw said the 2014 language policy put Afrikaans and English on equal footing, while the 2016 policy "reduced Afrikaans not to be equal to English."

He said this was not only a problem for Afrikaans, but mother-tongue languages in general.

"Our argument was… that [it] would also infringe on mother-tongue education rights," Rossouw said.

"In public universities for Afrikaans, if you look at the implementation of the policies, it's not good news for Afrikaans but it's also not good news, in my view, for other mother-tongue education languages… those languages are not being developed academically," Rossouw said.

He added that this would be the case unless universities worked to develop other languages - not just English.

While Gelyke Kanse asked the Constitutional Court to set aside this policy, the court instead "found that the 2016 policy was constitutionally justified," Justice Johan Froneman said.

In adopting the 2016 language policy, the university downgraded Afrikaans as a medium for education but did not eliminate it altogether, Froneman said.

"The university's decision-making structures with a scrupulous eye on racial equity, access and inclusiveness, judged that a downward adjustment of Afrikaans, without by any means eliminating it, was warranted."

While Rossouw agreed with this, he was worried that it would not be implemented.

"Our difficulty and our problem with Stellenbosch is that it is not being implemented that way – so it's an implementation issue. If it's properly implemented, by all means," he said.

"Afrikaans is the biggest language in the Western Cape. Our primary argument was [that] there are already four universities in the Western Cape, three of which are English completely. The way it's going to go on the implementation of Stellenbosch, that's also going to become English and that's probably why we are so disappointed," Rossouw said.

Inclusive policy

Froneman, however, said the policy was more inclusive for students who did not speak Afrikaans.

"The university's determinative motivation for introducing the new policy was to facilitate equitable access to its campus, its teaching and learning opportunities by black students not conversant in Afrikaans.

"The university showed that, near-universally, brown and white-Afrikaans-speaking first-year entrants to the university are able to be taught in English... The 2014 policy created an exclusionary hurdle for specifically black students," Froneman said.

He added that classes conducted in Afrikaans made people who did not speak Afrikaans "feel marginalised, excluded and stigmatised".

While the lobby group was disappointed at the ruling, Rossouw said they would be studying the judgment.

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