The Constitutional Court has dismissed the appeal by Afrikaans lobby group Gelyke Kanse against the 2016 language policy of Stellenbosch University which saw English being elevated above Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

The judgement clearly states that the university’s Language Policy is constitutionally justified. It also confirmed the goal of the Language Policy which is to promote access to and multilingualism at the University, and to support the academic and career success of students and staff.

The Court also found that the process the University followed to accept the Language Policy had been “thorough, exhaustive, inclusive and properly deliberative”.


“The University takes note of the Court’s reference to the protection of minority languages. Besides the use of English, SU is committed to the use of Afrikaans and isiXhosa. These are also the three official languages of the Western Cape, the province from which SU draws most of its undergraduate students.


The Court also found that the Language Policy was not trying to “eliminate” Afrikaans “by any means”. According to the SU’s Language Policy, the University remains committed to using Afrikaans – in conjunction with English – as language of tuition within the context of inclusivity and multilingualism,” announced the statement issued by Stellenbosch University.

The ConCourt said while most entrants to the university were able to be taught in Afrikaans, a significant minority could not understand the language which meant they were being unjustly excluded.

Gelyke Kanse had pushed for the University to adopt and implement its 2014 language policy which permitted a parallel English/Afrikaans medium tuition, among other things.

Delivering the judgment, Justice Johan Froneman said the university had been able to demonstrate that all Afrikaans speaking students would be able to be taught in English.

“The 2014 policy created an exclusionary hurdle for specifically black students. The university showed that classes conducted in Afrikaans, with interpreting from Afrikaans into English, made black students not conversant in Afrikaans feel marginalised, excluded and stigmatised,” Justice Froneman said.

The university had previously predominantly used Afrikaans as the main medium of instruction.

Justice Froneman said the university’s process of adopting the 2016 policy had been thorough, exhaustive and inclusive.

“The university’s determinative motivation for introducing the new policy was to facilitate equitable access to its campus, its teaching and learning opportunities by black students not conversant in Afrikaans,” he said.

He said for this to happen, a downward adjustment of Afrikaans, without eliminating it, was warranted.

Gelyke Kanse had initially approached the Western Cape High Court where its application was dismissed, as the Court insisted that the university’s obligations to provide Afrikaaans education were limited to where it was reasonably practicable.

This is how the Language Policy will be implemented:

For undergraduate modules Afrikaans and English are the languages of learning and teaching. Separate lectures in Afrikaans and English will be offered for large groups where reasonably practicable and pedagogically sound, but group work, assignments, tutorials and practical sessions will involve students from both language groups.

In lectures where both Afrikaans and English are used, all information will be conveyed in at least English, with a summary or emphasis also repeated in Afrikaans. Questions are answered in at least the language in which they were formulated. For first-year modules simultaneous interpreting will be available during each lecture. During second and subsequent years interpreting will be provided upon request by a faculty.

Undergraduate lectures may be offered in one language only if the subject matter justifies doing so; if the assigned lecturer is proficient to teach in one language only; or where all the students in a class group unanimously voted for one language by secret ballot. For at least the first year students, simultaneous interpreting into the ‘other’ language will be available.

Students will be supported in English and Afrikaans during facilitated learning opportunities, for example: consultations during office hours; routinely scheduled tutorials and practical sessions; learning facilitated by ICT (podcasts and vodcasts); and services offered by the SU Language Centre.

All compulsory reading material that lecturers generate (i.e. excluding published material) will be available in English and also in Afrikaans . SU module frameworks and study guides are available in English and Afrikaans. In undergraduate modules question papers for tests, examinations and other summative assessments are available in Afrikaans and English, and students may complete all assessments and written work in either Afrikaans or English. The multilingual model supports Afrikaans students who are yet to master English at an academic level. Our point of reference is the transfer of knowledge through the use of more than one language, while being attuned to the needs of students. By their final year, they will be able to function nationally and internationally with English as well, where that is the language of business and other interactions.

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