Study Tour to Brussels; South African Languages Bill: briefing

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Meeting report

Minutes of Select Committee on Education and Recreation

17 October 2001


The following persons were in attendance:
Mr T Wakashe, Deputy Director-General, Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology;
Mr Sonnyboy Bapela, Director; Legal Services: Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology;
Dr Nonhlanhla Mkhulisi, Director: National Language Service, Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology.
The Chairperson welcomed the Department Officials and indicated that the Committee will listen to both the briefings and then ask questions of clarification.

1. Briefing on the Study Tour Undertaken to Brussels.
Dr Mkhulisi briefed the Committee on the following document.
1. A DACST delegation comprising Dr N O Mkhulisi, Director: National Language Service; Dr A M Beukes, Head: Language Planning, National Language Service; Dr N Alexander and Prof. H Strydom (members of Minister's Advisory Panel on Language) visited the European Union (EU) to attend a conference with EU representatives on the management of multilingualism in the EU from 11 to 17 March 2001.

The DACST delegation accompanied a Parliamentary group comprising two representatives of the National Council of Provinces: Mr D Kgware (chair of the Committee for Education, Arts and Culture) and Mr A van Niekerk (language ombudsman of the NCOP); and two representative of the National Assembly: Ms N Tsheole (chair of the Portfolio Committee on Arts, Culture, Language, Science and Technology subcommittee on Language) and Ms B Marshof (member of the Finance Committee). The chairperson of the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB), Mr M B Kumalo, and the CEO of PANSALB, Prof. C N Marivate, were also part of the group.

2. Against the background of the finalisation of the Language Policy and Plan for South Africa an important aim of the visit was to study the applicability for South African circumstances of the manner in which the EU manages multilingualism and in particular how practical concerns such as the cost of multilingualism are addressed.

The EU consists of 15 member states representing some 375 million citizens and has eleven languages. Since the EU sees it as its duty to foster an open and democratic entity in which individual, local, regional and national characteristics are respected and safeguarded, and therefore equal status for the official languages - that is, multilingualism - is at the heart of EU policy implementation. EU legislation is consequently published in all the official languages in an effort to be as accessible as possible to the general public, government departments and interest groups alike.

3. The EU visit has highlighted the benefits of a policy of multilingualism. In addition to the enhancement of democracy, the implementation of a policy of multilingualism is non-negotiable and is viewed as "protection against conflict". In regard to the financial costs involved in operationalising multilingualism, EU representatives pointed out that the rendering of language facilitation services is costly, but that the social benefits far outweigh the financial costs.

4. The European Commission's Translation Service is the largest in the world. Its allocation for language facilitation services is roughly one-third of its administration budget. Not all its translation work is directed towards producing legislation, and includes a wide variety of texts, e.g. speeches, briefings and press releases, international agreements, policy statements, answers to written and oral parliamentary questions, technical studies, minutes, internal administrative matters and staff information and publications of a huge range of formats and topics for opinion-formers and the public. It is important to note that equal status for the official languages does not imply that all texts are translated into all the official languages. For example: letters to an individual or internal memoranda may be drafted in one language and may not be translated.

The EU has invested heavily in human language technologies, i.e. the well-known Systran machine translation system which can produce 2 000 pages of raw translation per hour. It is important to note that the raw translation requires further processing by human intelligence for it to be used for more than a rapid scan.

5. The Terminology unit's main function is to provide linguistic support in all the EU official languages. An important secondary function is the development of the Eurodicautum multilingual data bank which contains three million terms and some 250 000 abbreviations and acronyms.

6. The EU has designated 2001 the Year of Language. It is an information campaign aimed at promoting Europe's linguistic diversity on the one hand and on the other at promoting life-long language learning. The campaign is about all languages used in Europe and the key role each language plays as an integral part of Europe's cultural heritage and its future. It is important to note that this campaign is not about learning the most widely used language to facilitate international communication, but about highlighting the many other opportunities such as cultural understanding in a multilingual environment that language learning brings.
The EU Year of Language is an impressive language awareness campaign involving 45 countries and boasts several promotional activities such as a special web-site, a slogan, printed material, competitions, debated by political decision makers, exhibitions and language learning projects funded by the European Commission.

7. Following the visit to the EU the following recommendations are proposed:
7.1 In view of the need to popularise thinking on the gove0rnment's policy on multilingualism, it is recommended that DACST considers devising and launching an awareness campaign such as the EU's Year of Language for South Africa and that 2003 therefore be designated the Year of Language in South Africa.

In view of the importance of human language technologies (HLT) and the solutions to challenges in information access, speech and language processing, translation, summarisation, multimedia presentation, content extraction and knowledge management it promises, it is recommended that a model and road map for HLT in South African be developed. (It should be noted that the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology recently appointed an Advisory Panel to prepare a strategy on HLT for South Africa.)
(10407 - AB - 2001-10-12)

2. Progress on the South African Languages Bill
(Refer to Appendix A)
Dr Mkhulisi explained that the Committee invited the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology last year to discuss the language policy. The South African Languages Bill emanates from the Language Policy and Plan and it would be submitted to Cabinet. A Bill was submitted to Cabinet and it was returned to the Department with the following recommendations:
The Policy and Plan should be costed
This was worked out with the Treasury and the Department. The Minister believes it is ready to be re-submitted to Cabinet.

A survey of the language units that exist in the country and what is in place needs to be conducted. The Department has conducted the survey and its findings can be tabled in Cabinet.
Dr Mkhulisi stated that the Private Members Proposal of Mr van Niekerk, (Pan South African Language Board Amendment Bill) was taken into consideration. Mr van Niekerk met with the Language Unit of the Department. The two Bills were considered that of Mr van Niekerk's and the Department. It resulted in one draft Bill. She added that no progress has since been made until the Language Policy and Plan is finalised. This is subject to a Cabinet decision.

When the language issue was addressed at a Portfolio Committee meeting it was decided that Public Hearings would be conducted by Parliament when the Bill was officially tabled in Parliament.
Mr Wakashe added that progress is being made on the National Policy and Plan. At a MINMEC meeting it was raised that the Department should host a Conference on the Promotion of Multilingualism. The envisaged date would be in March 2002. Proper time frames will be place when Cabinet responds.


Ms Kgoali thanked the Department for the briefings, as it was important that the Committee be kept up to date on the progress regarding language policy. She expressed concern that the Portfolio Committee on Arts, Culture, Science and Technology would like to have Public Hearings on the SA Languages Bill and wanted to know if the Bill has already been classified? She stated that language is both a national and provincial issue.

Dr Mkhulisi explained that she did not know how the Public Hearings would be conducted. It came up during a discussion when the Department briefed the Portfolio Committee on the Language Policy and Plan. She said that the Portfolio Committee envisaged Public Hearings because it was a complex and sensitive issue for the entire country. She said that she did not know how this Bill would be classified.

Mr Tolo asked why did the Department chose to visit the European Union (EU), as it is made up of different countries and all speak different languages? Did they not think of visiting one particular country where multilingualism exists?

Dr Mkulisi explained that this comment was most welcoming and will be noted. She explained that the reason the EU was chosen is because they are advanced particularly on the issue of language and technology. She added that the Department is looking at other countries to draw experiences from.
Mr Wakashe added that in South Africa language rights are enshrined in the Constitution. Drawing from the experience of the EU the Department realised that in the EU languages are assimilated but there is one dominant language.

Ms Kgoali asked if there is any attempt by the Department to go to Zimbabwe, Nigeria or Kenya to see how African countries handle multilingualism?

Mr Wakashe indicated that the suggestion is most welcome. The reason for the visit to the EU was to study language and technology. The next study tour will focus on language and policy and the Department will look at visiting other countries.
He added that the countries that would be chosen to visit needed to be carefully selected as Nigeria has many languages and Ghana has a total of 84 languages.

Mr Kgware commented that the idea of multilingualism is a very expensive exercise. He cited the example that people that sit in meetings in the EU receive interpretations of the proceedings as they are in progress. The dissemination of information is very good.

Mr Tlhagale asked what mechanisms are in place to deal with translating and interpreting in South Africa.

Dr Mkhulisi explained that interpretation and translation have to complement one another. A professional council needs to be established for interpretation and translation. It is not regarded as a specialised field and people need to be trained in these areas.

She said that this Council would help with accreditation, in setting norms and standards. She added that African languages are modernised and part of the technology world and soon spell checkers will be in African languages. Four languages have already been phased in for this project.

Ms Kgoali said that the issue of languages is very important. In South Africa we seem to be losing touch with the African languages. There needs to be a stronger interaction between the Department of Education and the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in addressing these issues.

Mr Tolo asked if it is because African languages are not regarded as being scientific enough? He cited the example of Tanzania where Swahili is the official language even though numerous other languages exist. Swahili was developed and is now the official language of the country. Could that be possible in South Africa?

Mr Wakashe added that there are two critical areas that will assist in the development of African languages:
1. Trying to address language and curriculum development in the development of the child
Maths has found to be the basis for scientific learning and languages can express these concepts. The Director - Generals of Education and Arts, Culture, Science and Technology are working in collaboration to launch this.
2. Everyday usage of African languages by all South Africans. This is a major task, as children want to use English in everyday communication as a result being "deculturalised".
The Chairperson thanked the Department for the valuable and interesting briefings and added that the Promotion of Multilingualism Conference should be in collaboration with the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the Parliamentary Committees.

Eastern Cape
Mr R Z Nogumla
Ms J Kgoali
Northern Cape
Mr D M Kgware (Chairperson)
Northern Province
Ms C Nkuna
Mr B Tolo (visiting member)
North - West
Mr J O Tlhagale
Western Cape
Mrs J Witbooi
Apologies were received from Ms Q D Mahlangu, Mr T H Sogoni and Prince B Z Zulu.

Chairperson: Mr D M Kgware
Select Committee on Education and Recreation
Minutes Compiled by Ms Jillian Pillay
Committee Secretary: Select Committee on Education and Recreation


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