Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: REUTERS
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: REUTERS

The University of the Free State’s sole language of instruction is officially English, after the Constitutional Court refused Afriforum leave to appeal.

The court found that the language policy, with English as sole language of instruction, was lawful and valid.

Afriforum and Solidarity had appealed to the Constitutional Court, after the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the judgment of the Bloemfontein High Court, which reviewed and set aside the language policy adopted by the university senate in 2016.

The court held that Afriforum had standing to bring the matter, but that Solidarity did not.

Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng read out the judgment on the highly contentious issue of the use of Afrikaans at the university.

Afrikaans and English were used for some time as equal languages of instruction at the university, which was initially an Afrikaans-only institution.

The new language policy adopted by the university is monolingual, making English the only medium of instruction, though Afrikaans is still used in expanded tutorial sessions, as well in the departments of education and theology, where there is a need for it.

Mogoeng said the university essentially said that late president Nelson Mandela’s nightmares had come true, as the use of Afrikaans had unintentionally led to segregation, as it had created racial and cultural division at the university.

There was a dissenting judgment on the matter penned by Justice Coenraad Froneman, saying, among others, that the Constitutional Court should have heard oral arguments on the case and not just have made a decision on the papers.

No order on costs was made.

Ruling ‘lamentable’

Freedom Front (FF) Plus chairman Anton Alberts said the court’s "lamentable" ruling was a "tremendous setback" for mother-tongue instruction as well as the development of indigenous languages in South Africa.

“It is a great pity that mother-tongue instruction, as it is enshrined in the Constitution, is considered a stumbling block for racial relations and that the Constitutional Court blames the previous parallel language policy for racial segregation.

“The FF Plus is of the opinion that the ANC government has had the opportunity to build additional universities and implement measures so as to execute the Constitutional Court’s stipulation that everyone has the right to receive education in the official language of his or her choice for the past 23 years now.

“The ruling is also in contradiction with international law that promotes mother-tongue instruction and internal self-determination especially with regard to, amongst other things, language.

“In a country with eleven official languages, the mediums of instruction must rather be expanded to include more languages instead of languages being taken away and institutions becoming anglicised. Educational experts worldwide agree that mother-tongue instruction promotes academic performance. Social coherence will never be attained if people’s language rights are denied and if the integral building blocks that constitute their identity are taken away,” Alberts said.

The Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN), however, welcomed the judgement, saying it was a victory against Afriforum's "racist campaign to retain Afrikaans as the sole medium of instruction in formerly Afrikaans–only public higher educational institutions."

"Whilst it may not be possible for government to provide for indigenous language education for all, English should remain the international standard medium of instruction to ensure that all students from all South African communities are able to access higher education equally," said HETN executive director Mothepane Seolonyane.