‘Unconstitutional and unlawful’: Unisa's decision to stop tuition in Afrikaans

The Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that Unisa's language policy that removed Afrikaans as a language of learning and tuition is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that Unisa's language policy that removed Afrikaans as a language of learning and tuition is unconstitutional.
Image: SUNDAY TIMES/ DUDU ZITHA

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has ruled that a resolution taken by the University of South Africa (Unisa) to exclude Afrikaans as a language of tuition was unconstitutional and unlawful.

AfriForum approached the SCA to appeal against an earlier ruling by the high court that supported a council and senate resolution to approve the new language policy.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the SCA set aside the resolution that removed Afrikaans as a language of learning and tuition at the institution.

The judgment directed Unisa to “prominently publish” on its website and in three Afrikaans newspapers, in addition to e-mailing students, a notice including:

  • A full list of the modules that were on offer in Afrikaans as of April 28 2016;
  • Offering all prospective students for the next academic year admission in such modules as presented on first-year level; and
  • Offering all existing students, if they were enrolled in any one of those courses or would have enrolled for the subsequent year's course available in Afrikaans - but had 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.

The affected modules must be presented in full until the language policy has been lawfully amended, if at all. 

Unisa had argued that the need for the revision of the language policy arose from a natural attrition of the demand for Afrikaans, the move for parity between Afrikaans and other African languages as support rather than as a language of learning, and the inclination of students wanting to study in English.

AfriForum argued that Unisa's decision violated the rights of about 30,000 existing and prospective Afrikaans students, including white, black and coloured students from Afrikaans-speaking communities, to receive tuition in their mother tongue.

According to the lobby group, the decision was in breach of the constitution as there was no justification for the adoption of an English-only policy when no feasibility study had shown that it was no longer reasonable to use the old dual-language policy.



X