Salomone Comments on Recent Ruling by South African Constitutional Court

Professor Rosemary Salomone’s Commentary, “Court Ruling Misses the Mark on Language Rights,” has been published in the January 19, 2008 issue of University World News. Professor Salomone examines the recent ruling by the South African Constitutional Court in the case against the University of the Free State, an historically Afrikaans institution.

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Rosemary Salomone

The Court denied the claimants leave to appeal and upheld the university’s decision to phase out its parallel classes in English and Afrikaans and transition to a primarily English program to relieve racial tensions. She sets the discussion against the backdrop of the country’s dark history of apartheid and discusses the ruling in the context of the constitutional right of students to receive instruction in the “official language of their choice” within the limits of “practicability,” equity,” and “redress.” She specifically critiques the majority opinion for reducing the interests to a black/white racial binary and for taking the university’s justifications at face value without a sufficiently robust hearing. She argues that in the end the English classes could reinforce inequities and pose additional obstacles for the numerous less privileged coloured (mixed race) Afrikaans-speaking students, a group also marginalized under apartheid, who are the products of under-resourced rural schools where English is poorly taught. She suggests that universities consider alternative strategies to promote racial integration while protecting the rights of all students to learn in the language of their choice. This decision could have profound implications for several university cases now working their way through the lower courts and for rising litigation against Afrikaans primary and secondary schools.

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