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Indigenous languages are being diminished, says ConCourt

The Constitutional Court has said that while it agreed that Stellenbosch University should use English as the main medium of instruction, the reality was that indigenous languages, including Afrikaans, were being diminished.

FILE: The Constitutional Court. Picture: Clement Manyathela/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - The Constitutional Court has said that while it agreed that Stellenbosch University should use English as the main medium of instruction, the reality was that indigenous languages, including Afrikaans, were being diminished.

The Constitutional Court has expressed three opinions on the issue even though it eventually ruled unanimously for the university’s 2016 policy that upgraded English over Afrikaans.

It said that separation of classes by language would perpetuate segregation and stigma.

The Constitutional Court said that Stellenbosch University’s 2016 policy was reasonable and not unconstitutional.

However, the judges expressed three different opinions - one agreeing with the judgment and another saying that Afrikaans and English should be equal.

Judge Johan Froneman explains: "My concurrence draws out the implication of the entrenchment of English dominance as a medium of instruction for the diminished use and protection of minority, indigenous languages. It sounds the caution that we should not give up on the Constitution's dream of using our own languages in all spheres of life."

In his closing remarks, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng appealed to the private sector to support efforts to preserve indigenous languages, including Afrikaans.

LOBBY GROUP DISAPPOINTED

Afrikaans lobby group Gelyke Kanse said it was disappointed with the Constitutional Court ruling that English should remain the main medium of instruction at Stellenbosch University.

At the centre of the legal arguments was the cost of making English and Afrikaans equal as per Stellenbosch University’s 2014 language policy. The institution argued it would have to build infrastructure worth R640 million and an additional R78 million would be needed for translations.

Judge Johan Froneman said the court found in favour of the institution’s argument.

“The exclusion of non-Afrikaans speakers from full participation in tuition and other institutional benefits was a legitimate basis for upgrading English while continuing to offer significant tuition in Afrikaans,” he said.

The court said it was satisfied that the university would still offer Afrikaans. However, Gelyke Kanse’s Danie Rossouw said they were disappointed with the judgment.

“There are already four universities in the Western Cape, three of which are English completely. The way it’s going to go with the implementation at Stellenbosch, it’s still going to be English and that’s probably why we are disappointed,” he said.

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