A court decision with consequences for languages in HE

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University World News

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The 26 April decision of the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria upholding English-only courses at the University of South Africa (UNISA) is yet another sign that Afrikaans is losing its status in post-apartheid South Africa. It remains to be seen whether the court’s multilingual turn and conciliatory tone will influence university policies and future court decisions on language rights.

Language has long been contested terrain in South Africa. In recent years, some of the fiercest battles have been fought in universities over attempts to eliminate Afrikaans instruction in favour of an English-only programme. The rights group, AfriForum, has repeatedly charged that these policies violate the South African Constitution. The group met a major defeat in December 2017 in a Constitutional Court ruling supporting the decision of the University of the Free State (UFS) to provide all instruction in English.

Significant programmatic differences left open the possibility of a different judicial outcome in the case against UNISA. The Pretoria court, however, thought otherwise, but under an unexpected line of reasoning with potential policy implications.