SCA upholds UFS appeal on English-only language policy

28 March 2017 - 16:56 By Ernest Mabuza
University of the Free State. File photo.
University of the Free State. File photo.
Image: via Wikimedia Commons

The University of the Free State (UFS) acted lawfully when it adopted a new language policy in March last year‚ the Supreme Court of Appeal held on Tuesday.

The court upheld an appeal by the university against a ruling of the full bench of the high court in Bloemfontein in July last year‚ which reviewed and set aside the decision by the university to adopt the new policy as unlawful.

Trade union Solidarity and rights group Afriforum had reviewed the language policy in court.

  • Universities should reflect multilingual South AfricaAnyone who is serious about decolonisation of tertiary education should start by nurturing indigenous languages as a medium of academic study, writes Antjie Krog 

The policy replaced Afrikaans and English as parallel mediums of instruction with English as the primary medium.

The university had approved the dual language policy in 2003‚ but its rector at the time acknowledged the “unintended consequence” of the parallel-medium policy segregating the lecturing rooms along racial lines.

The university management accordingly sought and obtained a mandate from its council to formulate a new language policy in June 2015. The task was undertaken by the language committee.

"There is no dispute that the Committee executed its mandate diligently‚" Judge of Appeal Azhar Cachalia said in a unanimous judgment‚ in which Judges Kevin Swain‚ Rami Mathopo‚ Burton Fourie and Ashton Schippers concurred.

  • The Big Read: The 'bittereinders' of taalOne place in which to observe Thabo Mbeki's "two nations" thesis is in the language debates stalking the former white Afrikaans universities. 

He said the process spanned several months and involved thorough investigation‚ vigorous debate and full deliberation. Linguistic experts assisted the process.

"UFS was entitled to adopt a new policy because it was no longer reasonably practicable to continue with the 2003 policy‚ which had the effect of segregating the student community along racial lines‚" Cachalia said.

The court ordered Afriforum and the university to pay their own costs in the appeal.

However‚ this was not extended to Solidarity‚ which the court ordered to pay the costs of the appeal.

Cachalia said the university did not dispute Afriforum’s standing‚ but the judge had some doubts whether it had a legal interest in these proceedings.

Cachalia said Solidarity was a trade union and its members did not have a right to receive education in the language of their choice because only students had that right.

"Solidarity has no standing and has no basis to avoid a costs order in its case‚" Cachalia said.

- TMG Digital