Language in South Africa's higher education transformation : a study of language policies at four universities

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The advancement of African languages following South Africa’s transition to a constitutional democracy was important not only for societal transformation but also to enable previously disadvantaged South Africans proper access to education. In order to achieve this end policies had to be developed by government and by the institutions involved. In this dissertation I provide an analysis of the language policies developed by four South African universities1 (the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Cape Town, Rhodes University and North- West University) in order to provide insight into, and a critique of, how the role of African languages in education and in societal transformation is interpreted and implemented. The analysis of the language policies is preceded by an overview of the link between conflict and language in South Africa and a discussion on the manner in which the post-conflict South African state has attempted use language as a key player in transformation, particularly with regard to education. The dissertation draws on data collected from the policies to qualitatively determine a number of issues relating to transformation, being: the rationale for becoming a multilingual university; their choice for their languages of instruction; how universities try to achieve academic development through language interventions; how they attempt to develop their staff and students; and how actual implementation is achieved or projected.