UFS over first hurdle to implement new language policy

Counsel for the University of the Free State Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett on the far left and AfriForum and Solidarity’s counsel, Advocate Johan du Toit and Advocate Greta Engelbrecht, third and second from the right in the Free State High Court. PHOTO: ANDRÉ GROBLER

The University of the Free State has cleared the first hurdle to implement its new language policy for 2017.
This follows after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) upheld an appeal by the UFS against the order of the Free State High Court that it may not start implementing the language policy pending the outcome of an appeal by the university against the setting aside of its language policy.
The Free State High Court, on 21 July 2016, upheld an application by AfriForum for a review and set aside the decision to adopt the new policy.
The SCA held that AfriForum had failed to show that the order of 21 July 2016 should not be suspended pending the first appeal by the UFS.
The court found that AfriForum had failed to prove that any of the Afrikaans speaking students, whose interests it claimed to represent, would suffer irreparable harm if such an order was not made.
The effect of the order of the SCA is that pending the finalisation of the main appeal, the university is entitled to implement the new policy. Afriforum was also ordered to pay the university’s costs.
A spokesperson for the UFS, Lacea Loader, said the UFS was pleased with the judgment handed down.
She said the SCA order held that the application brought by AfriForum and Solidarity had failed on a legal and factual level, and had been misconceived.
Loader said the effect of the SCA judgment was that the UFS may proceed to implement the new language policy in its pilot programme next year, pending the appeal of the review application which will only be heard in early 2017.
In March 2016, the Senate and then Council had adopted with overwhelming majority a new language policy that strives to achieve multilingualism, Loader said.
The new policy entails English as primary medium of instruction, but with the introduction of a tutorial system in Afrikaans and progressively in Sesotho to support students’ learning in their first and second year of study.
The policy will be piloted in 2017 with first-year students in three faculties: Law, Health Sciences, and the Humanities.
In these faculties, the majority of students indicated their preference to be taught in English.
The Afrikaans-English (parallel medium) policy will be maintained at the rest of the faculties in 2017 and phased in according to an implementation plan as from 2018.
Loader said current registered students will be able to complete their studies in the language they have selected upon registration.
AfriForum’s deputy executive chief, Alana Baily, said the judgment was a temporary setback for them. She said it was also a setback for education in Afrikaans in South Africa.
Bailey said their legal team will now focus on the main appeal on the merits of the case. She said a full bench of judges has already held that a policy that only has English as a main stream instruction language will in the long term not only be detrimental to Afrikaans but to all indigenous languages.
Bailey said AfriForum and Solidarity see access to Afrikaans education as very important and will defend this right on all platforms. – André Grobler