Hierdie artikel behandel die posisie van (Afrikaanse) enkelmediumskole met verwysing na die
Grondwet, wetgewing en tersaaklike regspraak in geskille tussen provinsiale onderwysowerhede
en die beheerliggame van Afrikaanse skole. Die regsposisie word beskryf en die uitsprake
weergegee. Die bedoeling is egter nie ’n gedetailleerde regstegniese kritiek op die uitsprake nie.
Veel eerder is die klem daarop om aan te toon dat selfs waar die uitsprake in die guns van die
skole was, die regshulp wat die howe verleen het ontoereikend was aangesien dit nie die
onregmatige optrede van die owerhede ongedaan kon maak nie. Dit, in samehang met ander
faktore bring aan die lig dat te veel vertroue op die reg en die howe geplaas is om die posisie van
Afrikaanse enkelmediumonderwys te beskerm en dat alternatiewe weë om hierdie beskerming
te verskaf, ondersoek moet word. Van hierdie alternatiewe word kortliks aan die orde gestel. Die
artikel sluit af met ’n bondige oorsig van verskeie staatsbeskouings waarvolgens die hantering
van voertale in die onderwys ingerig kan word.
The Constitution, Education Authorities and the road ahead for Single medium Afrikaans
In this article the legal-political position of single medium public schools, more particularly
Afrikaans schools in the Republic of South Africa, is discussed. The discussion is conducted with
reference to applicable provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996,
statutory provisions that regulate the governance of public schools and relevant judgments of
the High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and the Constitutional Court.
Section 29(2) of the Constitution states that:
Everyone has the right to receive education in the offi cial 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
(b) practicability; and
(c) the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices
On its part section 6(2) of the South African Schools Act, 84 of 1996 assigns the power to determine
the policy regarding the language/s of instruction in public schools to the governing body of each
school. It makes provision for the governing body of a public school to determine the language
policy of the school subject to the Constitution, applicable provision of the Schools Act itself and
any applicable provincial law.
English is the dominant language of instruction in South Africa’s public schools, including
schools attended by black learners whose mother tongue is not English but one of the African
languages. A handful of schools are Afrikaans single medium, whilst a number of schools also
provide tuition in English as well as Afrikaans on a dual or (mostly) parallel medium basis.
On several occasions provincial education authorities and individual governing bodies of
Afrikaans schools have clashed about the decisions of the governing bodies to pursue a single
medium Afrikaans policy as opposed to the insistence of the provincial authorities on parallel
or dual medium instruction in Afrikaans and English. This gave rise to repeated litigation between
governing bodies of Afrikaans schools and provincial education authorities. Most important in
the present context are the judgments of the High Court in Laerskool Middelburg v Departementshoof
Mpumalanga Departement van Onderwys (Middelburg Primary School v Head of the
Department, Mpumalanga Department), of the SCA in Minister of Education, Western Cape v
Governing Body, Mikro Primary School and of both the SCA and the Constitutional Court in the
case involving Ermelo Hoërskool. (Ermelo High School).
The article begins by describing the constitutional and statutory framework for determining
the language policy of public schools. Thereafter follows a discussion of the afore-mentioned
judgments involving disputes between provincial education authorities and governing bodies.
The article does not involve a detailed legal critique of each judgment. Rather, the focus is
on three other dimensions emanating from the judgments:
Firstly, the judgments reveal an appalling animosity on the part of some provincial authorities
towards Afrikaans single medium schools. These schools have on various occasions been
compelled by provincial authorities to enrol non-Afrikaans speaking learners and to provide
tuition to them in English. This was occasionally in clear defi ance of the law applicable to the
question and with blatant disrespect for the governing bodies of these schools as well as for the
learners involved. The root cause of the animosity appears to be the fact that the learners of
single medium Afrikaans schools are often mostly white, which seem to be experienced as offending
the political agenda of transformation driven by some of the provincial education authorities.
However, these authorities do not show the same animosity towards the very large number of
schools with an exclusive black enrolment.
Secondly, in some occasions governing bodies that resisted unlawful conduct of provincial
education authorities were successful in their litigation. The remedies granted in their favour
nevertheless proved inadequate. At the time of the judgments (in favour of the governing bodies)
the learners that provincial authorities had imposed upon the Afrikaans schools had already
established themselves in these schools. Consequently, it would be inappropriate to disrupt the
education of these learners by ordering them to be enrolled elsewhere. The unlawful imposition of the learners on the Afrikaans schools therefore created a fait accompli that could not be turned
around by an appropriate court order. The remedies granted in favour of the single medium
schools therefore proved to be inadequate in spite of the (theoretical) victories of the favourable
Thirdly, the judgments show that the trust that has been invested in the ability of the law and
the courts to protect the position of single medium schools have been proven to be over-excessive.
Of particular importance is the fact that it is very diffi cult for these schools to remain single
medium in the face of a diminished demand for Afrikaans education in the feeding area of such
All three dimensions emanating from these judgments underline the fact that litigation is
often not the appropriate course to pursue and that single medium schools should be pursuing
alternative strategies to protect their interests and the interests of the cultural and linguistic
communities they serve.
Two alternatives should be considered. Firstly, single medium schools should preferably
reach a political settlement with the relevant provincial and national education authorities.
Secondly, single medium schools should co-operate in order to stabilise their own position even
though this might lead to some of these schools forfeiting their single medium status in order for
others to safeguard their position. Both these alternatives require schools to co-operate amongst
themselves instead of each one individually – and often unsuccessfully – trying to defend their
single medium position.
The article concludes with a succinct exposition of three theories of the state – Jacobinian,
Classical-liberal and pluralist – that could form the theoretical background for dealing with
language policy in educational institutions.