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Dismiss Afrikaans myths – ConCourt


False myths about Afrikaans have to be dismissed and its black history remembered, the Constitutional Court has found.

File image: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

FALSE myths about Afrikaans have to be dismissed and its black history remembered, the Constitutional Court has found.

The apex court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal by the University of South Africa (Unisa) with costs, which sought to exclude Afrikaans as a language of instruction in its new language policy.

It found in favour of lobby group AfriForum, which argued that it violated the right to section 29(2) of the Constitution (which confers the right to choose the language of instruction in a public educational institution) as there was no justification for the adoption of an English-only Language of Learning and Tuition (LOLT) policy when no feasibility study showed it was not practicable to use the old dual language policy.

The new language policy aimed to “enhance the status of indigenous African languages”, while phasing out Afrikaans and removing the guarantee that courses be offered in both Afrikaans and English.

In the judgment, Justice Steven Arnold Majiedt highlighted the black history of Afrikaans, which he said had been overlooked.

“Afrikaans evolved mainly from Dutch, Malay, Portuguese, Khoi languages, and Arabic-Afrikaans. The colonisers forced the Khoisan people and the enslaved Eastern people to speak Dutch, thus manifesting the first roots of the Afrikaans language. Afrikaans linguists all agree that the Khoisan and the enslaved people played important roles in the origins and development of Afrikaans – they only differ on whether their roles were pivotal or less substantial.

“The role of Afrikaans in our institutions and civic life cannot be reduced to a simplistic narrative of hegemony and decline. We must resist such simplistic narratives, many of which feed on false myths about the origins and development of the Afrikaans language.”

He said the language’s existence could not be attributed to a single race.

“The history of Afrikaans is multifaceted. It is a language that was once spoken by ’peasants, the urban proletariat, whatever their ethnic background, and even the middle class of civil servants, traders and teachers’. This black history teaches us that Afrikaans is more than just the language of ’racists, oppressors and unreconstructed nationalists’, but instead that it ’bears the imprint of a fierce tradition of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, of an all-embracing humanism and anti-apartheid activism’.”

However, he added that Afrikaans could not enjoy exclusion over other languages.

“Afrikaans speakers must accept, however, that their language now enjoys equal status with the other 10 official languages. Afrikaans cannot continue to enjoy its privileged position to the exclusion of the other indigenous languages, which were so terribly neglected under apartheid.”

Majiedt said English had become the mainstream language of choice through necessity, despite its colonial heritage.

“Universities as intellectual hubs of transformative constitutionalism must lead the charge for the decolonisation of language.”

The court found that should Unisa decide to continue with the language policy adopted in 2016, the requirements of section 29(2) of the Constitution must be complied with.

The ruling was hailed by AfriForum who said it was a victory for Afrikaans-speaking students and language rights.

“This marks the beginning of a new chapter in the empowerment of all who are not first language speakers of English in tertiary education,” said AfriForum’s head of cultural affairs, Alana Bailey.

“It is fair to say that private educational institutions have freedom to offer education in any language of their choice, but to be used as the language of instruction at a tertiary institution is of great importance for the survival and continuous development of a language. Therefore, when any language is phased out at an institution, the decision has huge ramifications and the decision cannot be readily accepted.

“The court today confirmed this point with the ruling and confirmed the right to access Afrikaans mother-language education at both public and private institutions for students of all income groups.”

Unisa said it was still studying the judgment and would respond in due course.

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