South Africa: Afrikaans and the University Language Debate - Exploring the Constitutional Court Judgments


Living in Stellenbosch, I am sensitive to the emotions that accompany the decline of Afrikaans as a high-level cultural medium. This constitutes an obvious cultural 'cost' for those who were previously able to use their 'mother tongue' at this level.

Part 1

Two recent Constitutional Court cases have qualified the constitutional right to "language choice" at public educational institutions and concluded a three-year period of language policy litigation at historically Afrikaans universities. On 10 October 2019, the Constitutional Court released a unanimous judgment, which found that Stellenbosch University's 2016 language policy was "constitutionally justified".

The court dismissed the case presented by an Afrikaans interest group called Gelyke Kanse (Equal Opportunities), which had sought to appeal against an earlier judgment by the Cape High Court. Gelyke Kanse argued that the 2016 policy deprived Afrikaans speakers of the right to mother-tongue education and called for the reinstatement of the University's 2014 policy, which had granted equal status to English and Afrikaans as languages of learning and teaching.

This judgment comes less than two years after a related ruling involving the University of the Free State (UFS). AfriForum had challenged the University's revised language policy, which had made English the primary medium of...

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