The South African Constitutional Court was called on to examine the 2016 Language Policy of Stellenbosch University which effectively gives preference to English in the circumstances specified in the Policy to advance the university’s goals of equal access, multi-lingualism and integration. The policy maintains and preserves Afrikaans but this is now subject to demand and available resources.

It was held that this complies with the language provisions in section 29(2) of the Constitution which entitles everyone to an education in the official language of their choice ‘where that education is reasonably practicable’.

The court held that the process for adopting the 2016 Language Policy was thorough, exhaustive, inclusive and properly deliberative. The challenge on process and rationality grounds failed.

Respectful language preference, where appropriate and reasonable, flows from fundamental rights and values to be treated equally and without discrimination. It is established in international human rights law that the way in which respect for languages is realised must depend on what is appropriate and reasonable. A right cannot be taken away without appropriate justification. The new language policy was upheld.

The case is Gelyke Kanse and Others v Chairperson of the Senate of the University of Stellenbosch and Others.