The Committee had previously held public hearings on the issue of whether Sepedi or Sesotho sa Leboa (also known as ‘Northern Sotho’) should be listed as an official language in the Constitution. A number of opposing views had been expressed, and it was clear that the issue was politically sensitive. The main problem was that although the Interim Constitution had designated Sesotho sa Leboa as an official language, this was replaced, in the English version of the Final Constitution, with Sepedi, although the references to Sesotho sa Leboa were retained in nine other translations. The English version had been the one signed by the President that was regarded as the “official” version.
A number of academics and traditional leaders put their views to the Committee. Some of the delegates expressed the view that Sepedi was a dialect of Sesotho sa Leboa, and not a language in its own right. Other delegates, mostly from Limpopo’s Sekhukhune district, stated that Sepedi was in fact a language, and was rightfully listed as one of the 11 official languages in the final Constitution. A more nuanced linguistic reading conveyed Sepedi as a language, but one that fell under the standard language form of Sesotho sa Leboa, and that Sesotho sa Leboa was therefore the correct language to be listed in Section 6 of the Constitution. Delegates discussed the use and teaching of the languages, and the fact that the German missionaries who first reduced the languages to writing and the apartheid regime had put their own slant on the issue. There was also some dispute as to how the substitution of one reference with another had occurred, as the translator claimed to have pointed out the error, and had questioned it, whilst other views claimed that there was a deliberate insertion.
The purpose of the meeting was to give the delegates and the Committee members an opportunity to engage on the issues, but, despite repeated exhortations that the submissions be presented briefly, the presentations took much longer than had been envisaged. After three hours of presentations, the delegates had to leave in order catch flights to Limpopo, without being able to engage. The Committee expressed disappointment that there was not sufficient time to engage and interact, but held further deliberations after the delegates had left.
All Members agreed that the issue was highly sensitive, and that there was bound to be controversy, no matter what decision was made. The Committee resolved to consult the records of the constitutional committee deliberations at the time, in order to determine whether the discrepancy between the Interim and Final Constitutions could be attributed to an error of fact or an error of law, or whether the change was politically motivated. A suggestion was made that Sesotho sa Leboa could simply be included as a twelfth official language, but Members noted that this was likely to open the door to other language groups seeking to attain official status for their dialects or languages, pointing out that most languages had a number of variations. It was possible to distinguish the position, however, because nine of the eleven translations listed Sesotho sa Leboa already. A possible compromise solution was suggested, of listing the language as ‘Sepedi/Sesotho sa Leboa’ or some other combination of the two. Members agreed that the Committee researchers must also determine what language was being used in an official capacity, in practice, in Limpopo governmental structures. There was a pressing need for political guidance to retain stability, especially in the light of the upcoming local elections. The Committee resolved that the Management Committee would come up with a programme mapping out a timeline for research, consultations and legal advice.
Sepedi / Sesotho sa Leboa as official language: public hearings continuation
Co-Chairperson Mr B Mnguni (ANC, Free State) welcomed all interested parties. He noted that this was the second meeting around whether Sepedi or Sesotho sa Leboa should be listed as an official language in the Constitution. Although Sesotho sa Leboa was listed in the Interim Constitution, Sepedi was the language that was listed when the final Constitution was formally adopted in 1996.
Interested parties were called to Parliament to interact on the issue of whether Sepedi or Sesotho sa Leboa should be entrenched in the Constitution as one of the official languages of the Republic. During earlier submissions made to the Committee on the same topic, there had not been an opportunity for the Committee members to question those submissions, so this meeting would allow for interrogation. He asked that all making submissions should be brief, because of travel constraints.
Co-Chairperson Mr S Holomisa (ANC) noted that there was only one representative from the House of Traditional Leaders in Limpopo present at the meeting. The Committee had traveled to Limpopo and heard submissions, but also indicated that it would invite interested stakeholders to Parliament to assist in determining the correct course of action on the language issue.
Delegates introduced themselves. After both Professor Sekgothe Mokgoatsana, and Dr MV Mojela both introduced themselves as representing the University of Limpopo, there was some dispute as to whether Dr Mojela was formally employed by, or seconded by, the University of Limpopo. Further enquiries from Co-Chairperson Mnguni indicated that he was employed by a Section 21 organisation attached to the University, and it was agreed that he could participate as representative of that organisation.
Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) submission
Mr Chris Swepu, Acting Chief Executive Officer, PANSALB, reiterated that the Interim Constitution had named Sesotho sa Leboa as an official language, but Sepedi was listed as an official language instead in the final Constitution. PANSALB had commissioned a study, which was submitted to Parliament and which concluded that the official language should be Sesotho sa Leboa.
PANSALB had a duty to review the validity of the steps that it took from time to time. Under the leadership of the new Board, PANSALB reconsidered the issue, and the new Board then decided that the issue should be reconsidered, because it had received a number of communications. When PANSALB was invited to present the findings of the new study in 2010, PANSALB agreed that the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review should undertake public hearings on this matter. PANSALB fully supported the Committee in its quest to determine which language should be listed in the Constitution, but noted that PANSALB would be compromised if it were to take a decision on this issue itself.
Sesotho sa Leboa Unit
Dr MV Mojela, Executive Director, Sesotho sa Leboa Unit (attached to the University of Limpopo), expressed the need to restore the name of the Sesotho sa Leboa language to its rightful place and to remove the term ‘Sepedi’ from the Constitution. He said that Sepedi was just one of the 27 dialects of Sesotho sa Leboa, a standard language spoken by the Basotho communities in the Northern parts of South Africa, including Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Northwest, and this dialect was spoken in one of the four districts of Limpopo. Those people advocating for the retention of Sepedi in the Constitution, including academics and traditional leaders, were all originally from the Sekhukhune District, and he said that they would be satisfied if their dialect were to be elevated to the position of an official language, at the expense of other dialects. He said that in the meantime, those wishing the official language to be Sesotho sa Leboa were being ‘strangled and suffocated’. Prior to being listed by the Constitution, Sepedi had only ever been considered a dialect, and had never been given an etymological designation. Nobody knew what caused the change from Sesotho sa Leboa in the Interim Constitution to Sepedi in the final Constitution, because people were not consulted. From a political and historical viewpoint, this could be linked to a history of rivalry between various cultural and linguistic groups.
He submitted that Sepedi should be confined to the area where it was spoken, and not imposed on people who were not Bapedi. Some academics claimed that the name ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’ was imposed on the people by the apartheid regime, but that was completely wrong. The name stemmed from ‘Sotho’, and came to be known as ‘Northern Sotho’ or ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’. The term ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’ was used well before 1948.
Many years before 1969, when the Leboa Bantustan government was formed, the term ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’ was used. There was an attempt in some academic circles to justify the idea that the language was called ‘Sepedi’ on the grounds that missionaries regarded ‘Sepedi’ as its name. In fact, the missionaries and almost all writers of the language used the names ‘Sesotho’, ‘Sotho’ or ‘Northern Sotho’ and not ‘Sepedi’. The German Missionary Society was among the first to publish written works in the language referred to as ‘Sesotho’ or ‘Northern Sotho’. The same names were used by almost all academics and institutions of higher learning.
The outcome of the public hearing revealed that the roughly three-quarters of the local communities knew the name of their language as ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’, and not ‘Sepedi’. He reiterated that only one district would like their dialect to be elevated, as all dialect speakers, given the choice, would like their language to receive Constitutional recognition.
Co-Chairperson Mnguni pointed out that the Committee was dealing with ‘a very sensitive and explosive issue’ and highlighted the need for those present to give one another the chance to talk and to listen. He asked for restraint on the part of delegates, even if they felt offended, so as to not make things difficult for the Committee.
University of Johannesburg Language Unit
Dr Rakwena Monareng, Head: Language Unit, University of Johannesburg, indicated that he was originally from Limpopo. He tabled a document that he also read from. He agreed that there was a need to approach the matter dispassionately. He noted that the subtext to some presentations at the public hearings had created a (non-existent) dichotomy by using the title: Sesotho sa Leboa vs Sepedi contestation.’ He noted that Sesotho sa Leboa was ‘the main language’, and explained that he was not intending to imply that Seroka, Sephalaborwa, Sehanwa, Sepedi, and others were not languages, for they were understood as such by the African people, who did not recognise the concept of dialect. He reminded delegates that it was the use of language as an official platform – language as written, spoken and taught – was being debated. Students in the Limpopo classrooms were taught Sesotho sa Leboa, an all-encompassing language that accommodated a group of other languages.
Dr Monareng explained that there were three forms of language, namely ‘standard’, ‘dialect’ and ‘variety’ which were specific to the use of language within a given context. Sesotho sa Leboa was the ‘standardised language used for official and formal context’. This comprised all nine dialects, including Seroka, Sephalaborwa, Sehananwa, Sepedi, Sepulana, Sekone, Setlokwa, Sekopa and Khelobedu. Those ‘dialects’ could be converted to writing, as the missionaries had done, but did not extend to the same formal written context as Sesotho sa Leboa. Sekgaga, Setlhabine, Sekhutswe/Sekororo were in turn varieties of the Seroka dialect, and were not officially codified. The identity framework of language was linked to the system of Bogosi, or chiefs. Historically, each individual Kgoshi and his or her nation spoke in a language of their own, and they would not approve of imposing their language on another Kgoshi.
The other aspects of language – ‘dialects’ and ‘varieties’ – were also languages, but could not be described as the standard language form. Sesotho sa Leboa was a standard language form, as defined by the context in which it was used. Dr Monareng pointed out that just as he made his presentation in English for the purposes of allowing everyone to understand, Sesotho sa Leboa was used as a standard, unifying device.
He then said that ‘Dipolelo’ or ‘languages’ were mutually intelligible forms of speech with common Sotho language roots. All three Sotho language groups – South Sotho/Sesotho, West Sotho/Setswana, and North Sotho/Sesotho sa Leboa –were situated within Sesotho sa Leboa. Sesotho sa Leboa was an official language used at a formal context both in oral and written form, and was taught at schools as the mother tongue.
He went on to explain that one of the four District municipalities inhabited by the Basotho ba Leboa of Limpopo was named ‘Sekhukhune’, and each of those four districts had their own municipality and “polelo” or language. In Sekhukhune, Sepedi was one of the languages used. However, for all four Districts, the standardised language was Sesotho sa Leboa.
The use of the unifying standard form of Sesotho sa Leboa as an official language was not meant to offend any group, and he reiterated that what were sometimes called dialects were languages. However, Sesotho sa Leboa was the standardised language form, while the other nine languages of the area all operated at dialect level. It was reasonable to request that the Constitution refer to the standardised language form as ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’.
University of Pretoria submission
Professor Mawatle Mojalefa, University of Pretoria, argued that Sepedi was in fact the correct language to be included in the Constitution. ‘Sepedi’ was a name long used by its native speakers, and the name had been used since 1862, in an article published in a German journal, and in writings by German missionaries. During apartheid, white academics were assigned to investigate effective measures for the promotion of apartheid at ‘Native’ government schools. In 1969, there was a study of ‘Bantu’ languages, during which Mr Van Wyk divided the languages into Nguni and Sotho groups, with Sotho then being subdivided further into ‘Southern Sotho/Sesotho’, ‘Western Sotho/Setswana’ and ‘Northern Sotho/Sepedi’. Those groupings were not widely accepted by those they were meant to classify, as they were seen as impositions from outside.
Sepedi dialects were further divided into five groups. The concept of ‘Northern Sotho’ originated from that classification. Such classifications formed the core of the apartheid arrangement, and were used as a tool of oppression. In 1962 the Department of Native Affairs reinforced the policy of apartheid by forming the ‘Sotho Language Board’ along with other Language Boards. That arrangement gave birth to the Northern Sotho Language Board, which replaced the Sepedi Language Board. The apartheid Northern Sotho Language Board chose its policies in line with Van Wyk’s classifications, and chose to replace Sepedi with Northern Sotho. Northern Sotho became an ‘artificial language crafted by foreigners’ and was imposed on Sepedi speakers.
He submitted that the origins of ‘Northern Sotho’ were seriously defective and lacked legitimacy. Northern Sotho was classified as the language of the North, but that geographical designation was suspect. Languages were named after superior dialects, according to their dominance. Sepedi was no exception. It was chosen on the same basis as the other official languages, and was a dialect which had been raised to written, codified form. There was no empirical evidence to show that the process of standardising a language had the effect of marginalising other dialects of that language.
Parliament had assigned service providers to translate the Constitution from English into ten official South African languages. That project was completed in 1995. It could be argued that the individual assigned to perform the task manipulated the Constitution. He allegedly went as far as attempting to influence the translation groups to change Sepedi to Sesotho sa Leboa, but was unsuccessful. PANSALB apparently instituted an investigation into the matter, which did not take the form of a public hearing. The investigation ignored the public, and targeted the Bapedi community exclusively. The same individual was, surprisingly, investigated to make an enquiry into the matter. The research project was, as a result, biased and unfair.
Pursuant to a third investigation, there was a notice published in the Government Gazette102 of 6 June 2001, which, although not worded quite in this way, purported to amend the Constitution by substituting Sepedi with Sesotho sa Leboa.
Prof Mojalefa said that the Interim Constitution was supposed to serve as a temporary measure until an acceptable version could be produced, and it reflected the status quo at that time. The Language Board had recommended that Sepedi replace Sesotho sa Leboa in the final version, for the historical reasons he had outlined. A research committee of the Language Board agreed unanimously that the correct position was in fact Sepedi. That decision was made official even though there was no consultation with the affected communities. At a subsequent meeting in September 1994, only one member had misgivings about the correctness of the decision, but he had not been present at the June 1994 meeting, when the decision was made.
The process should have been transparent and as widely representative as possible. The composition of the Committee was representative, although slightly weighted in favour of members from the Polokwane area. For the first time, the Language Board sought to properly consult affected communities. On the basis of extensive research, and the analysis of the submitted report, the decision was made to list Sepedi as the standardised language. He noted that mere acceptance of the Interim Constitution, without consultation with the affected communities, would have betrayed people whose dignity was being restored by the Constitution. Once entrenched in the Constitution, the designation ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’ would have endured forever, serving as a reminder of the days of oppression.
University of South Africa (UNISA) submission
Dr L Boshego, UNISA, requested Parliament to amend the position, by replacing Sepedi with Sesotho sa Leboa. If there was a problem with the Interim Constitution, it should have been corrected with the advent of the final Constitution. He was the first person to inform Parliament that the inclusion of Sepedi was incorrect. He had been asked by Parliament to translate the final Constitution into Sepedi, had discovered the mistake, and had pointed out to Parliament that the reference to Sepedi was incorrect and should have been Sesotho sa Leboa. Dr Boshego reported the problem to the chief coordinator and the executive director of the translation process. When he came to Cape Town with the translation team to finalise the translations, he was asked to contact the last chairperson of the Northern Sotho Language Board, which had terminated in 1995. That Chairperson, now deceased, had been requested by the Language Board to consult with the people and chiefs on what language should be included in the final Constitution, and had identified that roughly 65% identified Northern Sotho, 26% wanted Sepedi, and the rest were ambivalent. He tried to take the matter further, and had written to the Northern Province (now Limpopo) to ask for assistance, but received only an acknowledgment of his correspondence, but no more.
Dr Boshego noted that he had received a letter of thanks from Parliament, on 18 December 1996, once he had completed the translation of the Constitution from English into Sesotho sa Leboa, and coordinated the translation from English into several other official languages. This read: ‘… [t]he translation of the Constitution into Sesotho sa Leboa has been a mammoth task which you have completed under difficult circumstances… thank you for making it possible for the Sesotho sa Leboa-speaking people to read the Constitution in their own official language.’ He also received a letter from Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, along similar lines, that also mentioned ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’.
University of Limpopo submission
Professor Sekgothe Mokgoatsana, Head: Cultural and Political Studies, University of Limpopo, explained that the main issue at stake was how to determine that a language was standardised. There were three basic principles used in linguistics. Firstly, it must have been a language or a dialect with historical value and associated with historical and juridical powers and political influence. In Limpopo Province, the most dominant group had always been the Bapedi Kingdom. Some delegates suggested that Sekhukhune was a small village, but that was not the case, and making that claim amounted to refuting one’s ancestry.
Co-Chairperson Mnguni reminded Professor Mokgoatsana not to make personal insinuations.
Professor Mokgoatsana explained that the second principle of linguistics that determined how a dialect became a standardised form was the requirement that it be reduced to writing. Lutheran missionaries in the Sekhukhune Kingdom recorded Sepedi in writing for purposes of instruction and proselytising, and had translated the Bible into Sepedi. Thirdly, the language had to have a literature of its own, and this was true of Sepedi.
Sepedi was therefore a dialect that historically rose to the stature of an official language. Although Sepedi was a ‘major dialect’, there were others that emerged as a result of publishing and writing. He submitted that those advocating that Sesotho sa Leboa be an official language were not accepting the historical facts. ‘Sesotho sa Leboa was merely “hypothetical”, a foreign label was imposed, and people did not identify with it. He insinuated that the gentleman who translated the Constitution was dishonest, and that he took it upon itself to change something that could only be changed by Parliament.
Professor Mokgoatsana claimed that there were 5 million people affected by this particular language issue in South Africa. The percentages represented earlier in the meeting were not an accurate reflection of the true position, because the group that was sampled was skewed. He made some remarks about the standing of the earlier delegate.
The Co-Chairperson asked him not to reflect on the character of an individual, since that was not the purpose of the meeting. Professor Mokgoatsana apologised.
Dr M Oriani-Ambrosini, (IFP) interjected to ask if the presentations could be speeded up, so that Members could have a chance to engage with the delegates before they had to catch their flights.
Congress of Traditional Leaders in South Africa (Contralesa) submission
Kgoshi Sheshego Sekororo, Chairperson: Limpopo Province Contralesa, indicated that his mother came from the Sekhukhune Kingdom. He said that he spoke Seroka and Sotho, and that if it was necessary to state which type, it was ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’ or ‘Northern Sotho’. At the school he attended, for the children of royalty, he received instruction in ‘Sovenga’, which was a combination of Sotho, Venda, Tsonga.
He noted that Limpopo was made up of five districts, only one of which had minimal Sotho representation. The other four were mainly representative of Sotho-speaking people. The concept of a “super-dialect” was fallacious, and would not be accepted in Limpopo. There were 183 Magoshi, or Traditional Leaders, in the Limpopo Province. He asserted that Contralesa did know about “this Sepedi language”. If this was such an important language, then it should be expected that a Kgoshi should be present to represent it.
It was an error on the part of Parliament to rename the language, and it was unfortunate that no one in Parliament could explain how the problem came about. He pleaded with the Committee to correct the name, as it was unheard of to compare a dialect with a language. He wondered how it was possible that Mr Madiba could have signed a document containing a mistake. Mistake was the only possible explanation, as only two of the 11 different language versions of the Constitution spoke of “Sepedi”, whilst the rest spoke of “Sesotho sa Leboa”. As an aside, Sesotho sa Leboa was not junior to English.
Some people disputed that the Constitution should be amended. However, there was nothing unusual about doing so. He requested that Parliament should correct the anomaly, thereby giving the Sesotho people their dignity again. The letters of thanks to the translator should not be undermined.
Kgoshi Dikgale submission
Kgoshi MS Dikgale, from the Capricorn District, spoke in favour of Sesotho sa Leboa. His people were disappointed with the traditional leaders in the district because their children were told at school that they were learning Sepedi. He claimed that Sepedi was not a language but a dialect. He grew up speaking Northern Sotho, and never had anything to do with Sepedi. The dialects in the province were equal and people wanted to keep it that way. The language that they spoke and wrote was Northern Sotho. Most of the words in Sepedi were not written, but only spoken. That suggested that Sepedi was not a language, and why the people in Limpopo would consider it an offense if Sepedi were to be kept in the Constitution. It was a mistake to equate the dialect of Sepedi with the rulership of Sekhukhune. He pointed out that Sekhukhune did not fight alone for liberation, but was supported in the struggle by other traditional leaders who fought together with him. Kgoshi Dikgale implored Parliament to give official recognition to the fact that Northern Sotho was the language that was spoken and written
Serokote Sekhukhune submission
Serokote Sekhukhune, representing King Sekhukhune of Bapedi, wished to correct the impression given earlier in the meeting that those who supported Sepedi did not have a Magoshi. He was representing the Magoshi. He noted that at the time that Sesotho sa Leboa became a prescribed language under apartheid rule, the language in fact in use was Sepedi. Sesotho sa Leboa was the result of an imposition by the apartheid system, and the delegates who were advocating Sesotho sa Leboa were representing ‘apartheid in disguise’. He urged caution, saying that if this situation was not handled properly, it could be a problematic precedent for other provinces, where languages exist along other dialects.
Sekhukhune Royal House submission
A representative from the Sekhukhune Royal House stated that history could not be erased. The history of the Sepedi language and people could be traced a long way back, as far as 1700. He complained to the Co-Chairpersons that it was intimidating when people shook their heads or whispered, and asked the audience to listen to what he was saying.
The purpose of the Bapedi people all along was to unite the people and to fight for the land. The purpose of King Sekhukhune fighting with other leaders was to unite the people of the North. The concept of Northern Sotho was invented by the apartheid regime to oppress people, particularly the Bapedi. If Parliament was not satisfied with the public hearings and the submissions that were already made, there was nothing new to be brought to the Committee.
Some people were defying the Constitution by failing to use Sepedi as a medium of instruction and as a language in the media. Until the ‘final destiny’ of Sepedi was determined, people were bound to do what the Constitution said.
The Co-Chairperson pointed out that the time had almost elapsed. He asked the members how they thought the Committee should proceed. The Committee was not in a position to do what it set out to do.
Ms M Smuts (DA) thanked all delegates for their informative and interesting presentations. She suggested that the Committee discuss the merits of the various arguments, as well as the legal position, and then decide whether delegates should be re-invited.
Mr S Swart (ACDP) thanked the delegates for their impressive and helpful presentations, and quipped that it would be useful if they could all sit together on the plane and reach a consensus. He agreed that the Committee needed to look at the documentation referred to in the presentations in order to better understand the situation.
The Co-Chairperson stated that there was no option but to adjourn. It was not the first time that the Committee had considered the issue, and it was unfortunate that there was not enough time to engage further with the delegates. The Committee would confer to decide how to take the matter forward. All outstanding documentation should be sent to the Committee for consideration.
It had been necessary for the delegates to interact with the Committee in order for the Committee to make an informed decision, and all input from all delegates would be duly taken into consideration.
The delegates were thanked for their time, and excused. The Committee remained behind to continue discussions.
Mr Swart said that there was a need to establish, from a legal perspective, whether it was an error of fact or an error of law that was responsible for the discrepancy between the Interim and Final Constitutions. The Committee needed to determine whether it was a political decision that was responsible for the fact that ‘Sepedi’ was listed in the English version. It was strange that the issue was not raised at the Certification hearings at the Constitutional Court, when there had been objections from many groups. The English text, referring to ‘Sepedi’, was the text before the Constitutional Court at that time.
There might be a need to look into the records of the constitutional deliberations, or call Mr Ramaphosa to ask him whether it was a political decision, an underhand move or an error. The Committee was put in an awkward position, because different languages were listed in different translations of the Constitution. Whichever decision the Committee made, it would be challenged. As it stood, both groups had vested constitutional rights. The Committee may be forced to make “a Solomonic compromise” on this political issue that had the potential to split the community in Limpopo. The Committee should look at the cost implications of adding ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’ to the English Constitution and the Zulu translation, and ‘Sepedi’ to the other translations. Section 82 of the Constitution stated that the signed copy of the Constitution was conclusive. The signed version was the English version. Constitutionally, the Sepedi language was in a strong position, but there was a strong case for Sesotho sa Leboa, as that was the official language listed in the other constitutional texts.
Ms Smuts suggested that the Committee should proceed to look at the records of proceedings of the constitutional committees and sub-committees concerned. The Constitutional Court proceedings regarding the Rain Queen should be considered. That case was withdrawn, but the Court indicated that it would be willing to consider adding languages to the Constitution. The Committee needed to establish the legal position before looking at all of the other considerations that had been raised. The DA represented people in Limpopo who felt strongly about Sesotho sa Leboa and the attendant issues of cultural dominance.
Dr M Oriani-Ambrosini stated that he was putting forward not the view of his constituency, but common sense. Constitutional intention was the most important starting point. The Constitution was negotiated and drafted in English, and it seemed likely that during the translation process, a typographical error was made. The starting point was Constitutional intention, but once that was identified, it would still be difficult to determine what to do. The easiest thing to do might be to add an additional language, to bring the total number of official languages to twelve, but that too could lead to further problems. A bigger dilemma was why the government had failed to deal with the issue for 16 years. He hoped the Committee could rise to the challenge, and in so doing embrace the importance of their role.
Ms B Mncube (ANC Gauteng), acknowledged that the issue was a sensitive one, with the potential to divide the community in Limpopo and further afield. She came from a province where both of the languages were spoken, and urged that representation must be sought also from provinces other than Limpopo. She agreed that there was a need to look at the records to determine whether a mistake was made, and questioned what the implications would be if the records showed that it was not a mistake.
She added that the Committee needed to set a timeframe for consultation on the record, and, if necessary, consultation with groups from other provinces. She cautioned that if another language were to be added now, no doubt this would lead to claims from other language groups for official recognition of their languages. The Committee needed a strategy to avoid litigation and further complaints.
Adv A Gaum (ANC), said that it was unfortunate that the Committee was unable to question the delegates or engage properly at the meeting, for lack of time. Some of the delegates clearly left Parliament with the feeling that there was no real engagement. The Committee needed to consider whether to call the delegates back to Parliament and to call for submissions from other provinces.
He agreed that the Committee needed evidence of the Constitutional process, and must consider Constitutional Court rulings. He suggested that the Parliamentary legal advisors could give a presentation. This was a legal issue, but he agreed that it was also a ‘political landmine’. In the final analysis, the Committee would need to make a political call. No matter how much consultation, the issue would remain controversial, and therefore the Committee should seriously consider some type of a compromise in the constitutional text, such as inserting ‘Sepedi/Sesotho sa Leboa’ instead of retaining one or the other. Consultation and proper engagement was important, but the decision would always be controversial if no compromise was reached.
Mr Swart agreed that if Sesotho sa Leboa was given status as a twelfth official language, it could open the floodgates to demands from other language groups. However, he pointed out that reference to Sesotho sa Leboa was already made in nine of the eleven translations, so it could be argued that inserting it into the English version would be giving it its proper place there. That could serve to distinguish the situation if other language groups claimed that they were being treated unfairly if their languages were not given official status.
Mr Gaum said that the two languages in question were clearly related. There seemed to be a general consensus that Sepedi was a dialect of Sesotho sa Leboa. He did not agree that the Committee should consider adding a twelfth language, but should rather amalgamate the two, as he suggested earlier. However, he noted that there could still be disagreement over which language was named first.
Dr Oriani-Ambrosini wanted to know, from the Constitutional implementation point of view, which language was being used as an official language in Limpopo, in other contexts, and, for instance, into which language provincial laws were being translated.
Co-Chairperson Mnguni said that the Committee clearly agreed that the researchers had some work to do on what language was in fact being used by the provincial government for official purposes and in official documents in Limpopo. Some of the presenters had said that the written language was Sesotho sa Leboa, and yet it was referred to as ‘Sepedi’. The research should also look into the deliberations of the Constitutional committee that prepared Section 6 of the Constitution, and why there was a discrepancy between the Interim Constitution and the Final Constitution. There was a need for political guidance to retain stability, especially given the upcoming municipal election.
Co-Chairperson Mnguni thought that Dr Bashego had shed some light on the situation when he explained that when the final Constitution was finalised, the Chairperson of the board consulted by the Constitutional Assembly had insisted that the term 'Sepedi' be used, while Dr Bashego asserted that it should have been ‘Sesotho sa Leboa’. A record of the conversation that took place at the Constitutional Assembly could be helpful. He agreed that the Committee should also consider the case of the Rain Queen, and there were documents before it that related to that case. The political parties must apply their minds to the matter, as it was indeed a political issue. He said that this was illustrated by the fact that when the Committee visited Limpopo, one group was threatening to either disrupt, or refrain from participating in, upcoming local government elections, depending on the position the Committee would take.
Co-Chairperson Mnguni asked the Members to comment on what they felt would be the best course of action. The Committee promised interaction with interested parties, and they were subsequently invited to Parliament for the purposes of this interaction, although it had not taken place. On the question of opening the matter further, by involving people from other provinces, he was concerned that this could become cumbersome. There were people all over the country who spoke the two languages. The Committee had focused its investigations on Limpopo was because that area was the source of both languages.
Mr Swart said that the Co-Chairperson made it very clear to the delegates, when they left, that they might not be called back to Parliament. It was not the fault of the Committee that there was not sufficient time to engage. The Co-Chairperson had emphasised that there was limited time, and had repeatedly urged the delegates to keep their presentations short, but they failed to do so. The Committee could consider future engagement, but needed to determine whether it would accomplish anything more. The delegates had established the facts and the Committee had a fair amount of information provided from those sources. The fact that the Co-Chairperson made it clear to the delegates that they might not be called back to engage meant that he effectively amended what was said at an earlier meeting around engagement, and he did not think that there would be a major problem if delegates were not called back.
Mr Swart added that the Committee should exercise wisdom with regard to the local government elections, and should refrain from making a final decision until after the elections. In any event, this was going to be a complex process that would probably not be completed within the next two months.
Ms Mncube reiterated that the Committee needed a clear plan for dealing with the issue. Whether or not the delegates were called back, it was important for the Committee to move forward with the matter, and certainly this issue must be finalised before 2014. She thought a time should be specified to complete the research and further consultations, perhaps by September. She noted that NCOP members would be held accountable by constituents from their provinces for the fact that a major decision was taken, and so there might in fact need to be consultation. She thought all delegates should also be kept informed of the processes that were followed in order to arrive at a decision.
Co-Chairperson Holomisa summarised that Members agreed that it was not really necessary to invite the delegates back to Parliament, and that they would be informed of the outcome after the research and consultations had been conducted. The Committee needed to consider whether it was possible to include both languages as one, as suggested by Mr Gaum, since they were indeed inter-related and intertwined. If the Constitution were amended to list twelve official languages, the matter would certainly not end there. Northern Sesotho was the standardised language form, the ‘bigger’ language that incorporated a number of other languages, but this was true of other languages. In the Eastern Cape, for example, many different forms of isiXhosa were spoken, which were also languages. The Committee needed to be conscious of the possibility of other language groups seeking official recognition. Groups advocating the constitutional inclusion of sign language and the Khoi-san language had already approached government. It was the Committee’s responsibility to contain the issue, since it had the potential to further disintegrate the affected communities. Traditional leaders belonged to clans, and it was not the place of government to interfere in those structures. It was the government’s responsibility to build a united nation and a cohesive society, and language should be used to unite, instead of to further fracture society.
Co-Chairperson Mnguni summarised that the Committee’s researcher, with assistance from the legal advisors and Adv H Schmidt, who was present at the time of the constitutional drafting process, could help the Committee to find the relevant records, in order to determine in which direction the Constitutional Assembly was leaning at the time of drafting. He agreed with Ms Mncube that there was a need for the Committee to come up with a programme for completion of tasks. The Committee needed to ensure, as pointed out by delegates, that communities were not disregarded. When the Committee was in Limpopo, it witnessed how explosive the situation was. The Management Committee would come up with a programme for the Committee to endorse, and the Committee would then work according to that programme.
Ms Smuts added that at some point the Committee should seek an official legal opinion. It was possible that the entire Parliamentary legal team, which had a permanent Head, needed to consider the matter for the Committee.
Co-Chairperson Mnguni thanked Members, and hoped they could re-arrange commitments to be able to attend the next meeting. He said that Parliament was now taking this Committee seriously. The Committee needed to reflect this in its commitment to doing its work. The Committee would meet again on 18 March 2011.
The meeting was adjourned.
- We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.