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Unisa language case

February 26, 2018 deur Alet Rademeyer

The period of 2016/2017 was characterised by the radical downscaling of Afrikaans at a higher education level. AfriForum, AfriForum Youth and Solidarity reacted to this by instituting legal action against the Universities of the Free State (UFS), Pretoria (UP) and South Africa (Unisa). On 1 December 2016 the Pretoria High Court ruled in favour of UP’s English language policy, and on 10 March 2017 the same court refused to grant AfriForum leave to appeal against this decision. In the same year, on 29 December, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the UFS’s English-only policy, and on 19 March this year the case on the constitutionality of Unisa’s language policy will be heard in the Pretoria High Court.

AfriForum feels strongly about Unisa’s language policy, for the following reasons:

  • Because Unisa is a correspondence institution, segregation or tension on campus cannot be an issue. The court, therefore, will have to pass judgment on the language rights at a more basic level.
  • In 2016 there were between 20 000 and 30 000 students who had elected to follow modules in Afrikaans at Unisa. Accurate figures are sometimes difficult to come by because Unisa has been experiencing major problems with its registration system over the past two years.
  • The nature of the students studying at Unisa also deserves special attention. Many of them are older people in remote areas or in prisons or from outside South Africa who want to improve their qualifications with a view to a sustainable career. For them there is no other Afrikaans option, and only very limited other study options in general. Some officials and others in the rural areas are working in completely Afrikaans work environments and have had very little professional exposure to English over their lifetime. Neither do they have any need for English, because their work environment is Afrikaans.
  • Like the residential universities, Unisa undertakes to provide tutorial assistance and glossaries for students in languages other than English. Apart from the inadequacy of this “solution”, the unique circumstances of these students again have to be taken into account. Most of them are employed full-time. To access tutorial assistance, they therefore have to take time off from work and travel, make calls or use electronic media at their own expense. This situation implies much more serious challenges than in the case of a student on campus who can quickly consult a tutor after class.

You can also assist by contributing to the Legal Fund by sending an SMS with “Unisa” to ? and donating R10!

Feel free to also watch the following video inserts:

Prof Hennie Strydom: International options for the protection of language rights.

Prof Theo du Plessis: The logic behind litigation as component of language rights activism.

Prof Elirea Bornman: Mother tongue education and identity: Reasons for and problems with the choice of Afrikaans as language of education.

Adv. Albert Lamey: Afrikaans as a language of science in medical practice and servicing of the public.