PEN Afrikaans objects to the clause on language policy in the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill

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PEN Afrikaans is an author association that not only promotes freedom of expression and serves the interests of authors but also strives for equal language rights in a multilingual context. Against this background, PEN Afrikaans notes with concern clause 4 of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill ("the Bill") published on 13 October 2017 for public commentary.

Clause 4 of the Bill stipulates that the language policy in public schools, which is determined by the governing body of the school under existing legislation, will in future be subject to approval and review of the relevant provincial education department.

PEN Afrikaans acknowledges that the Bill prescribes factors that the education department must consider in determining the language policy of a school. Nevertheless, PEN Afrikaans considers it short-sighted and imprudent to give a state institution, which is removed from the unique composition and needs of the school community in question, authority to determine the language policy a school must follow.

There is a danger that the proven value of mother tongue education will be overlooked in the process and that a forced movement towards English as the sole language of instruction may become a reality.

Article 29 (2) of the Constitution enshrines each person’s right to receive education in the official language of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable.

PEN Afrikaans supports the Girona Manifesto on Linguistic Rights, an initiative of the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee of PEN International, which states, among other things, that school instruction must contribute to the prestige of the language spoken by the linguistic community of the area.

According to PEN Afrikaans, the linguistic community, represented in the case of schools by a duly elected governing body, is best placed to make decisions about the language of instruction.

PEN Afrikaans therefore calls on the Department of Basic Education to refrain from state interference in the language policy of public schools. It can have extremely adverse consequences.


Yours sincerely,

Marga Stoffer

Chairperson: PEN Afrikaans

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