The Constitutional Court has ruled that Stellenbosch University’s policy that makes English the institution’s main language is reasonable and must remain in place. During the ruling, the university said it had initially made the move to provide equal access to all its students and promote a multilingual culture.
The language policy has been in place since 2016, but has remained a source of contention at the university as some opine that it is unconstitutional and promotes erasing Afrikaans at the educational establishment.
The case was brought to the Western Cape High Court by the President of the Conviction of the Stellenbosch University and an organisation called Gelyke Kanse (meaning equal chances). The applicants believe that the policy is an infringement on the rights of Afrikaans-speaking students.
They raised the argument that the policy is abandoning Afrikaans as a language of instruction, but the University itself argued that their assumption is mistaken.
The university’s senate approved the policy on June 9, 2016. There were 113 votes for the policy, and 10 opposing.
“The policy explicitly made provision for students who prefer to study in Afrikaans, while also improving access to education for students who are proficient in English only… The language policy also makes provision for mechanisms for academic oversight, effective management and good governance relating to language implementation, within a framework that enables faculties to customise their language implementation plans, and their mechanisms for accountability and reporting to the relevant structures,” the university said in a statement.
The institution conceded that, in the case of a large class, an effort would be made to offer separate lectures in Afrikaans and English where possible.
“When students from both language groups are studying the same module, both groups will participate in group work, class assignments, tutorials and practical sessions, the aim being to stimulate frank debate and a diversity of ideas and viewpoints,” the university said. “Where Afrikaans and English are used in the same lecture, all information will be conveyed in at least English, with a summary or notes of key points in Afrikaans as well. Questions will at least be answered in the language in which they are asked.”
Picture: Stellenbosch University