SCA rules in favour of UFS language policy

Court says university's conduct exemplary in manner in which it had adopted and given careful consideration to new policy

Appeal Court rules in favour of UFS language policy

Bloemfontein - The Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of the University of the Free State’s new language policy.

The UFS adopted a new language policy in March 2016, which replaces Afrikaans and English as parallel mediums of instruction, and makes English the primary medium.

The SCA upheld the university's appeal against a High Court order which said the decision was unlawful.

AfriForum and Solidarity brought the application to review and set aside the adoption of the policy.

In a unanimous judgment presented by Justice Azhar Cachalia, the SCA said that the UFS’s conduct had been exemplary in the manner in which it had adopted and given careful consideration to the new policy.

The university's main reason for departing from the parallel-medium policy was that it had the "unintended consequence" of segregating white Afrikaans-speaking students from black students who had chosen to study in English. It led to racial tensions, as well as staff and student complaints.

The SCA held that this was a good reason to depart from the existing policy.

The High Court had held that, in adopting the new policy, the UFS had failed to consider the Constitution and the 2002 Higher Education Language Policy (LPHE).

The Constitution guarantees language of choice in public education institutions when "reasonably practicable", while the Higher Education Language Policy advocates the retention and strengthening of Afrikaans at historically Afrikaans universities, such as UFS.

The SCA held that the evidence showed that UFS had indeed considered both when taking the decision for the new language policy.

The judgment reads that there was no basis for the argument by AfriForum and Solidarity that the UFS had misconstrued its powers when it adopted the new policy.

The SCA held that AfriForum was not liable to pay for the UFS’s costs because its real purpose was to vindicate the constitutional rights of Afrikaans-language speakers.

However, Solidarity, as a trade union had not shown that it had a legal interest in these proceedings and was, therefore, liable for UFS’s costs.

The judges also ordered that certain parts of the respondents’ (AfriForum and Solidarity) papers be struck out.

The matter was before Justices Kevin Swain, Rami Mathopo, Burton Fourie and Ashton Schippers.