Comments of the minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, that there are no single medium English universities in South Africa is shocking and inappropriate given the guiding principle used to determine which universities are only Afrikaans, Adv. Anton Alberts, the FF Plus’ parliamentary spokesperson on Higher Education says.
In a reply to a parliamentary question of Adv. Alberts abo, amongst others, the Constitutionality of single medium English Universities and whether such universities can also be forced to review their language policy, the minister in essence replied that the questions aren’t relevant as there are no single medium English language universities in South Africa.
The minister also made it clear that in terms of Section 27(2) of the revised Higher Education Act (Act 101 of 1997) he has the sole right to decide about the language policy of universities.
Regarding the use of English, the reply reads that: “English is an international language utilised in higher education across the globe, and it is practicable for South African institutions to utilise this as the main language of teaching and learning”.
Adv. Alberts says the reply isn’t sensible. “Is the ANC government’s only motivation to anglicise universities merely because English is an international language?
“The minister himself says the three criteria to determine a language policy is equity, practicability and the need to redress the results of the past racially discriminatory laws and practices. With his reply not one of these requirements are met.
“The policy is unfair toward all the non-English students in South Africa and at the same time it is not setting any injustice of the past right to also force black indigenous mother tongue speakers to study in English.
“The minister also makes wild deductions by stating that it is practicably the best to use English. What about the Western Cape where Afrikaans is the largest spoken language?
“This reply makes it clear that the government is disregarding Afrikaans and other indigenous languages and the policy will indeed be debatable in the Constitutional court,” Adv. Alberts says.
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Adv A de W Alberts (FF Plus) to ask the Minister of Higher Education and Training:
(1) Whether he has found that single medium English-speaking tertiary institutions fall within the provisions of the Constitution of the RSA, 1996, with specific reference to the promotion of indigenous languages and non-discrimination based on language; if so, what is the basis for the establishment of single medium tertiary institutions; if not,
(2) whether he will be taking steps against single medium English-speaking tertiary institutions so as to compel these institutions to change their language policy; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details?
(1) The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa declares that: “the official languages of the Republic are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu”. The Constitution, Section 6 (1), (2) and (4) of the Founding Provisions also states that: “the state must take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these [the indigenous] languages” and that all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and be treated equitably”. The Constitution enjoins the Pan South African Language Board to promote and create conditions for the development and use of these and other languages.
With regard to the provision of languages at institutions of higher learning, Section 29 (2) of the Constitution states that: “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 –
(b) Practicability; and
(c) The need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.
These facts are stated so that there is a clear understanding on the obligations of the Minister of Higher Education and Training. In terms of Section 27 (2) of the Higher Education Act (101 of 1997, as amended), the Minister determines Language Policy for Higher Education. In accordance with this legislation, each institution of higher education is required to establish its own language policy, guided by the Constitution and Language Policy for Higher Education. This requirement takes into account the autonomy of institutions to determine flexible language policies provided that such determination is within the context of public accountability and my responsibility to establish the parameters. Although the Language Policy for Higher Education is designed to promote African languages in institutional policies and practices in higher education, it clearly does not discourage the use of English. English is an international language utilised in higher education across the globe, and it is practicable for South African institutions to utilise this as the main language of teaching and learning.
Therefore, I have found that English-speaking tertiary institutions fall within the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (RSA).
(2) In terms of language policies of individual universities, none are single medium English-language speaking. Therefore, in terms of the question there are no steps that need to be taken to compel universities to change their language policies.
The action required is aggressive improvement of universities in developing indigenous languages. I believe that the promotion of multilingualism in the higher education sector is imperative as the Constitution of the RSA accords equal status to all our languages. In this regard, the Language Policy for Higher Education published in November 2002 is the framework that guides the practices at higher education institutions. In addition to this policy, there are other mechanisms through which the Department attempts to steer institutions towards the development of all official languages especially the indigenous languages. For example, an allocation of infrastructure and efficiency funds to support the development of facilities for the teaching of African Languages was introduced during the 2012/13 to 2014/15 infrastructure cycle; R311.654 million was allocated to the category ‘African Languages, Humanities and Social Sciences’. Within this category, approximately R120 million was allocated to various universities for infrastructure projects related to the development of African Languages. In addition, the Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications policy published in the Government Gazette Number 34467 of 15 July 2011 requires all new teachers to be at least conversationally proficient in an African language. Currently, there are 21 universities offering initial teacher education that are developing the capability of teachers in African languages and contributing towards the revitalisation of African languages departments at universities, as well as the teaching of African languages in schools.
My Ministry is mindful of the fact that effective and sustainable teaching of African languages at universities is dependent on the competency in these languages being developed at the level of schooling, and therefore that all languages should form an integral part of the basic education curriculum. The Department is working in close collaboration with the Department of Basic Education to ensure that there is synergy on this important matter, especially with regards to the training of teachers.