Legal opinion provides foundation for debate

22 Augustus 2017

Legal opinion – A constitutional perspective on the continued use of Afrikaans in Higher Education in South Africa

- Compiled by a panel of senior legal practitioners for the Trust vir Afrikaanse Onderwys (TAO)

It is clear that Afrikaans as a higher education language is under severe pressure. The TAO is committed to multi-lingualism and specifically Afrikaans as an education language. It therefore commissioned this legal opinion to give a constitutional perspective on the continued use of Afrikaans as a higher education language in public universities in South Africa. The debate (and often decision-making) about language is often done against the background of emotions, political correctness and a warped sense of (racial) transformation. 

This legal opinion, written in accessible language, is meant to provide a firm constitutional foundation for the debate about higher education language, transformation and diversity. It is intended to be used by members of university councils, university senior management, academics, student leadership and concerned stakeholders.

The TAO hopes that this opinion would not only be found useful by associates of the two universities whose councils decided to stop the use of Afrikaans as language of tuition (with a few exceptions), namely the University of Pretoria (UP) and the University of the Free State (UFS), but also by those associated with the last two remaining universities where Afrikaans is – under specific circumstances – still used, University of Stellenbosch (US) and North West University (NWU – at its Potchefstroom Campus).

For the purpose of this legal opinion, section 29(2) of the Constitution was analysed to provide a constitutional perspective on the rights of students who choose to study in Afrikaans at university level. The TAO is of the belief that recognising the imperatives of mother-tongue educations is not only achievable in a practical sense but an absolute necessity to promote access and quality education for all the youth of South Africa.

Section 29(2) of the Constitution provides:
“Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable. In order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of, this right, the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single medium institutions, taking into account—
(a) equity;
(b) practicability; and
(c) the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.”

This opinion is specifically written and offered in English, so that it could also be accessed and utilised by non-Afrikaans speaking stakeholders. Read the document here.