Newspaper clipping – The Mercury – 1 October 2008

School language policy was unfair


The Equality Court has found that Durban High School’s former language policy had discriminated against pupils whose first language was Zulu.

Yesterday, magistrate John Sanders ruled that offering Afrikaans at a higher level than Zulu for grades eight and nine in 2007 had constituted “unfair discrimination” for pupils in those grades whose home language was Zulu.

The ruling came after an application by Ntombenhle Nkosi, the chief executive of the Pan South African Language Board, who accused the school of discriminating against her son while he was a pupil there in 2007.

Nkosi said her son had been taught sub-standard Zulu as a third language at DHS, while Afrikaans was taught as a second language. She said she had known that the medium of instruction at the school was English when she had applied to enroll her son at DHS. However, Nkosi had felt that the Zulu taught was discriminatory in the sense that proficiency would not be reached by such a pupil in his or her home language. She told the court that this would impact negatively on pupils, alienate them from their culture and that it would result in a tendency to uphold the culture of others at the expense of one’s own.

Sanders said the discrimination suffered by Nkosi and her son was “fair”, taking into account that most of the boys attending the school spoke English as a home language.
“However, the same cannot be said of the discrimination suffered by the complainant and her son in relation to those boys whose home language was Zulu.”

After Nkosi complained about the school’s language policy, it was reviewed and Afrikaans and Zulu are now both offered as second languages in those grades. In grades 10 to 12, English as a first language is compulsory and pupils can choose between Afrikaans and Zulu as a second language.

Nkosi previously argued that the school was ‘promoting the subjugation of indigenous languages” and that while retaining English as the language of tuition, it should offer Zulu as a first language to those who wished to do it on that level.

During his testimony, DHS principal David Magner said the language policy at the time had been in place for about 10 years, and that it was in line with the policies laid down by government departments in accordance with the constitution.

Yesterday, Saunders made it clear that his ruling was based on the language policy in place in 2007, and not what was now in practice.