ConCourt rejects UFS appeal over language policy

2016-09-28 20:19
The University of the Freestate (Andre Damons, Netwerk24)

The University of the Freestate (Andre Damons, Netwerk24)

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Bloemfontein – The Constitutional Court has rejected an appeal by the University of the Free State against a High Court ruling halting implementation of its proposed language policy.

"The Constitutional Court has considered this application for leave to appeal. It has concluded that the application should be dismissed as it not in the interest of justice to hear it at this stage," it said in its judgment dated September 21.

The UFS would now approach the Supreme Court of Appeal. 

Earlier this year, the university decided to make English the primary medium of instruction from 2017, while providing sufficient scope for multilingualism.

The university's council said English would be the primary medium of instruction at undergraduate and postgraduate level on the three campuses in Bloemfontein and QwaQwa.

Multilingualism would be supported by an expanded tutorial system designed for first-year students. In professional programmes, parallel-medium teaching in English, Afrikaans, Sesotho and isiZulu would continue.

These included teacher education and the training of theology students who wished to enter the ministry in traditional Afrikaans-speaking churches, where there was a clear market need.

However, in July, the High Court in Bloemfontein ruled in favour of civil rights group AfriForum’s bid to stop the university from implementing this policy.

‘Afrikaans must not inevitably be replaced’

At the time, Judge Fouche Jordaan said: "The fact that English has been introduced at the UFS, which was a historical Afrikaans university, as a language of instruction, does not mean that Afrikaans must inevitably be replaced by English as the dominant language of instruction."

Jordaan said the UFS council had not considered constitutional issues involved.

While Afrikaans might be a barrier to black students, English was a barrier to many coloured students who had been victims of past discrimination. A move that decreased the Afrikaans offering would negatively affect them, he said.

On September 12, High Court Deputy Judge President Fikile Mokgohloa granted the university leave to appeal its July ruling.

"The judgment of this court delivered on [July 21] remains in force and is in operation pending the finalisation of the appeals," said Mokgohloa.

During arguments in the High Court, Jeremy Gauntlett SC, for the university, told a full bench of judges that AfriForum had failed to prove that UFS and most of its students would suffer irreparable harm should the new language policy be implemented.

"The court was wrong in their decision. It was wrong when they said there was no case of compulsory segregation. Another court would come to a different conclusion.

Students don't feel welcome

"There were persistent complaints from students about campus culture and that they do not feel welcome," Gauntlett said.

However, Johan du Toit SC, for AfriForum, said justice should be done for students who had already registered in their mother tongue.

AfriForum and trade union Solidarity on Wednesday welcomed the Constitutional Court’s decision.

Deputy chief executive Alana Bailey said their legal team was ready for UFS’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

“Nonetheless, it is tragic that the UFS management is stubbornly continuing with the case, despite the court’s clear ruling that the new language policy was discriminating and would deter students from applying to study at this institution."

Solidarity and AfriForum appealed to prospective Afrikaans students at the university to indicate in their applications that they wanted to study in Afrikaans.

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