UNISA's ditching of Afrikaans unjust – AfriForum

Organisation says university made no effort to consult with students

AfriForum instigates legal action against Unisa’s abolishment of Afrikaans

30 June 2016

In April 2016 the Council of the University of South Africa (Unisa) decided that English will be the university’s only language of instruction from 2017. The Council forged ahead with this decision, blatantly ignoring urgent written objections from Unisa’s Forum for Afrikaans. AfriForum supports the latter organisation in legal action against Unisa in order to put a stop to this unconstitutional decision and to protect the rights of Afrikaans-speaking students.

According to Alana Bailey, Deputy CEO of AfriForum responsible for language rights, the process that Unisa followed was not only unconstitutional, but also administratively unjust because no effort had been made to consult with Afrikaans-speaking students who would be directly influenced. Between 20 000 and 30 000 students who are currently enrolled at Unisa are Afrikaans mother-language speakers.

In a letter that was just sent by AfriForum’s legal representative, the Council Chairman and senior management of Unisa are asked to provide an unequivocal undertaking to AfriForum’s legal team before or on 6 July 2016 that the implementation of the new language policy will be suspended, pending finalisation of a review application to set aside the Council’s decision. Urgency is caused by the fact that prospective students are already planning for 2017 and need to have certainty about Unisa’s language of instruction. Should no undertaking be received, AfriForum will go ahead with an urgent application, coupled with the above-mentioned review application.

Bailey emphasises the importance of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at Unisa because of the unique nature of the institution and its students. Students are often employed adults who are trying to improve their qualifications at great personal cost. Some live in communities where English language skills are lacking. In order to serve such communities, they choose Afrikaans tuition. Others reside temporarily outside of South Africa, but still desire to study in their mother-language, Afrikaans, because of their commitment to their homeland. The Constitution recognises students’ right to study in the language of their choice where this is practicably possible. The fact that Afrikaans is currently being used as a medium of instruction at Unisa, proves such feasibility.

“With their unilateral and non-transparent decision to abolish Afrikaans, the Council and management of Unisa have failed a particularly vulnerable student community. AfriForum will do everything in its power to protect these students’ right to education in Afrikaans,” Bailey adds.

Issued by Alana Bailey, Deputy CEO, AfriForum, 30 June 2016