Gelyke Kanse charges Stellenbosch University’s language policy with sidelining speakers of the language.

Stellenbosch University’s language policy discriminates against students who wish to study in Afrikaans due to their lack of proficiency in English. This is the argument of advocate group, Gelyke Kanse, which has taken the matter to the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

The organisation appeared at the apex court on Thursday, August 8 in a bid to appeal the decision made by the Western Cape high court which ruled in 2017 that Stellenbosch’s language policy, which gives preference to English, was in line with the constitution and could remain in place.

“Afrikaans-speaking students from especially rural communities are significantly disadvantaged by the language policy,” Gelyke Kanse attorney of record and secretary Danie Rossouw, told Wits Vuvuzela.

He cited the barring of one of the case’s co-applicants, Roderick Leonard, from running for the SRC as one of the ways in which the language policy has negatively affected Afrikaans-speaking students. “Such was his struggle with English at Stellenbosch University that, when an opportunity presented itself for him to stand for election to the SRC, the SU (Stellenbosch University) powers that be would not accept his candidacy for SRC election, citing his ‘mediocre academic performance’ as the reason therefore.

“He was struggling academically because, contrary to his expectations, his lectures were in English,” Rossouw said.

Stellenbosch University’s director of communication and stakeholder relations, Susan van der Merwe, told Wits Vuvuzela that before 2016, the language policy was inadequate and not in accordance with the National Language Policy for Higher Education.

“The 2014 Language Policy excluded students who could not follow lectures in Afrikaans from the academic offering, and for that reason the 2016 Language Policy was developed and approved by the Stellenbosch University Council.

“The most important objectives of the 2016 Language Policy are that language should increase equitable access to SU for all students and staff, promote multilingualism and that it should support the academic and professional success of students and staff,” she said.

Rossouw told Wits Vuvuzela, “English and Afrikaans (irrespective of the race of its speakers) must be treated equally as languages of tuition at SU.

“In addition, Gelyke Kanse would like to see a real and tangible commitment by SU to support and develop [isi]Xhosa as a language of scholarship at SU, possibly in conjunction with an Eastern Cape University,” he said.

Van der Merwe said that contention over the language policy had not affected the atmosphere on campus.

“The ‘battle’ over the language policy is currently happening outside the university. On campus we continue with language implementation as set out in the 2016 Language Policy,” she said.

Both parties await judgement from the Constitutional Court.


FEATURED IMAGE: The Old Main Building at Stellenbosch University. Photo: Provided.

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