Language policy changes not about students’ language rights, but purely about segregation

The most important scope of the arguments to defend the language policy of the University of the Free State (UFS) heard in the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein today, is that the University should phase out Afrikaans as medium of instruction because there are mostly white students in Afrikaans classes and mostly students of other races in English classes. The viewpoint was therefore that the language policy indefinitely perpetuates segregation on the UFS’s campus.

The argument does not take in account a number of core principles. One of these is that the judges in the Free State High Court have already confirmed in July 2016 that the writers of the Constitution had realised that every language group has its own racial composition, and yet eleven languages had been elevated to official status, while the right to education in the language of your own choice had been specified.

Another argument is that the deprivation of the language rights of speakers will not result in desegregation, but will rather entrench segregation, increase reciprocal tensions and work against national cohesion. This fact has been proven the world over, sometimes with tragic consequences, such as loss of life. The existence of International Mother-tongue Day (21 February) is a direct result of this. The speakers of a language follow the language. By forcing Afrikaans from mainstream public education, you will force Afrikaans speakers from mainstream public education. In this way segregation is only increased.

Despite more and more well-stated legal arguments about the importance of language policy changes to remove Afrikaans and allowing the other nine languages to stagnate in disuse, it becomes clear that university managements do not have any insight into the meaning and importance of language rights, but simply want to get rid of Afrikaans simply to serve the transformational agenda of the governing party.

The tragedy is that history will eventually be the judge of the arguments of universities and the legal fraternity, although many vulnerable people would by then be the victims of short-sighted decisions.

The Court of Appeal reserved judgement.

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