Unisa ruling 'enormous victory for Afrikaans' - AfriForum

A general view of the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Pretoria.
A general view of the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Pretoria.
Alet Pretorius, Gallo Images
  • AfriForum says a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that Afrikaans be reinstated as a language of instruction at Unisa is a huge victory. 
  • The SCA ruled that the removal of Afrikaans was unlawful and unconstitutional. 
  • AfriForum tried to have Afrikaans reinstated for the past five years. 

Lobby group AfriForum says a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling in favour of the preservation of Afrikaans as a fully-fledged language of education at the University of South Africa (Unisa), is "an enormous victory for Afrikaans, Afrikaans students and also for language rights in the country".

Earlier this week, the SCA ruled that the removal of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at Unisa was unlawful and unconstitutional.

The appeal was lodged by lobby group AfriForum following a Gauteng High Court ruling in Pretoria on 26 April 2018, in favour of a language policy that English be the primary language of instruction at the institution.

The SCA also ordered the university to publish prominent notices in three Afrikaans newspapers and on its website to bring the ruling to the attention of students and the public.

EXPLAINER | Why appeals court ruled Unisa’s removal of Afrikaans unconstitutional, but not at UFS and US

The court ordered Unisa to prominently publish on its website, and in three major Afrikaans newspapers in South Africa, as well as in an email to all its students, a notice containing a full list of the modules that were on offer in Afrikaans as at 28 April 2016, offering all prospective students for the next academic year admission in such modules as presented on first-year level.

The university should also offer all existing students, if they were enrolled in any one of those courses, or "would have enrolled for the subsequent year courses available in Afrikaans, but had perforce to follow the module in English", a choice to enrol on the basis that they may follow the module in Afrikaans until completion of their studies.

'Accommodate more native languages'

According to Alana Bailey, head of cultural affairs at AfriForum, the appeal ruling – which comes after a five-year battle – is of enormous interest of all Afrikaans students in the country, but also for the future of Afrikaans as a high-function language.

"The fact the Supreme Court of Appeal delivered this ruling is of great interest – it is the highest court that has yet ruled in favour of Afrikaans education on tertiary level. The costs order against Unisa further confirms the moral high ground of students who demand the right to education in their native language."

READ HERE | Removal of Afrikaans at Unisa unlawful and unconstitutional - SCA

"It is important that it is eventually acknowledged that access to tertiary education must be extended to not only create room for English first language speakers, but to also accommodate more native languages. Unisa has yet again excluded Afrikaans recently from their plans to encourage staff and students to master more languages. The ruling emphasises that Afrikaans also has a place on government-supported campuses," Bailey said.

Unisa responds

Unisa said it noted the judgment on its language policy.

"The overall effect of the judgment is that Unisa must, with effect from 2021, reinstate Afrikaans as a language of instruction," Unisa spokesperson Tommy Huma said. 

"Unisa respects the judgments of the courts as a strong pillar of our constitutional democracy. The university is studying the judgment and will seek advice from both its internal legal department and external counsel and exercise available options.

"In its considerations the university shall be guided by facts presented by legal experts, the best interests of the institution, the best interests of the students, its transformative agenda, and the broader interests of the country.

"We wish to assure our students that we remain committed to offering the best education and to continue to drive Unisa to be 'the African university shaping futures in the service of humanity'."

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