South African Languages Bill [B23-2011]: public hearings Day 1

Arts and Culture

17 January 2012
Chairperson: Ms T Sunduza (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Seven organisations made oral submissions to the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture concerning the South African Languages Bill [B23-2011]. These included the Stigting vir Bemagting deur Afrikaans, Afrikaans Taalraad, Xhosa Africa Network, Afriforum, National Institute for the Deaf, FW De Klerk Foundation, Vereniging van Regslui vir Afrikaans. Ms Simphiwe Dana, singer and social activist, also made representations.

The Stigting vir Bemagting deur Afrikaans pointed out that the Bill fell short on a number of issues including providing adequately for multilingualism. It highlighted that the South African Languages Bill of 2003 was a better point of departure as it clearly promoted multilingualism. The 2003 Bill was in line with the requirements of Section 6 of the Constitution as it enabled all South Africans to make use of their language of choice as a right with the view to accessing all government services and programmes. The current Bill had a number of items missing that were included in the 2003 Bill. This included the promotion of multilingualism; recognition of language diversity and regional diversity in South Africa and stipulated remedies. Section 6(3) of the Constitution required of the legislator a pragmatic approach to the promotion of multilingualism. It was their view that attention would have to be drawn to the practical content of the promotion of multilingualism and the first step would be the promotion of mother tongue education at school and of the acquisition of one or more additional languages.

Members asked if the organisation wanted provision to be made for mother tongue education in the Bill and what the fundamental differences were between 2003 Bill and the current one.

The Afrikaans Taalraad said that there should be the official use of three languages per province, as was the case in the Western Cape. The 2003 Bill had to be re-visited as the current Bill did not contain conciliatory elements. The current Bill should promote the use of all official languages, linguistic diversity in SA as well as all indigenous languages including sign language. The acquisition of other languages should be promoted as well as multilingualism.

Members asked why English was given preference above all other languages and why the Afrikaans Taalraad recommended that there should there be three languages per provinces and not two as provided for in the Bill. The Committee also asked the organisation about the Pan South African Language Board.

The Xhosa Africa Network said that it would be a mistake to consider the 2011 South African Languages Bill as a sudden occurrence. It could not be expected that the current Bill would re-invent the wheel where the 2003 Bill was concerned. The organisation expressed concern that only the Western Cape and Limpopo provinces had a language Act.  It further highlighted that the new National Language Unit envisaged by the Bill might duplicate the work of the Pan South African Language Board and this was a concern. The leadership in the country had to carefully consider how it wanted to re-shape the language dispensation in terms of the fundamental obligation of promoting and consolidating the democracy that was established in 1994.

Members asked about the practical challenges of implementing the Bill.

Afriforum said that language was the carrier of cultural identity and without the adequate protection of indigenous languages in South Africa; whole knowledge systems would be lost. The main failure of the Bill was that it did not take the afore-mentioned nature of language into account. The Bill was too brief and generic. Public consultation should have preceded today’s proceedings as well as the drafting of the Bill. The languages of minority communities had to be protected. The Bill would have to pass constitutional muster as well as be properly aligned with international law. The Bill had to adequately define ‘parity of esteem’ and ‘equitably’. The Bill had to ensure that all citizens enjoyed civil, cultural, socio-economic and political rights. The country’s standards on the protection of minority rights remained erratic and not adequate. A multilingual environment had to be created where no South African was marginalised or alienated.

When asked if it was not better to have a language bill rather than no language bill at all, the reply was it was dangerous to say that one should accept an inadequate Bill rather than no Bill at all.

The National Institute for the Deaf said that the Bill was a great move forward. It noted that sign language was pertinent for all indigenous languages and it cut across all the different language groups. It highlighted that sign language was the oldest language. Education for deaf people was not what it should be and 93% of deaf people were unemployed which was a human rights travesty. The Bill had to include sign language both provincially and nationally so that deaf people could have the same benefits as everybody else.

Members commended the institution and thanked the presenter for highlighting the trauma that deaf children suffer especially in the education system.

Afternoon session
Ms Simphiwe Dana said that indigenous African languages had not developed in the past decades but this problem could be easily solved if linguists participated in developing the language. South Africans needed to be taught, to speak and do business in an African language. Strengthening the “Afrikan world-view” – their culture, their language, their identity – would certainly fast track development. English had brought the people of South Africa together but it still eroded other languages and African culture. Africa had rich potential but it had poor inhabitants because it wanted to be importers of knowledge and technology. This was a sure path to colonialism. Further, mother tongue education was vital.

The FW De Klerk Foundation was of the view that the South African Languages Bill departed significantly from the 2003 version of the Bill which was ideal and practical. The Foundation requested that the 2003 Languages Bill be re-introduced into the legislative process with several additions. The 2011 South African Languages Bill did not promote languages. The 2003 Bill promoted multilingualism which was what was required by the Section 6(4) of the Constitution. The main advantages of the 2003 Bill were the inclusion of a language policy clause that provided for the equitable use of all the official languages. Each national government department should adopt two official languages on the following basis: one of the national languages will be English; one third of national government departments will choose their second official language from isiXhosa, isiZulu, isiNdebele, siSwati; one third from Sapedi, Sesotho, Setswana; and one third from Afrikaans, Tshivenda, Xitsonga. For provinces and municipalities, one of the languages would be English. The second official language will be the language most widely spoken in that area. Further, everyone had the right to receive education in the language of their choice.

The Vereniging van Regslui vir Afrikaans stated that in terms of language statistics, English was a minority language in South Africa and it tended to divide rather than unite. 61% of the population did not have a proper grasp of English and 40% did not understand it at all. A survey conducted by PanSALB a few years before had indicated that 22% of those interviewed fully understood government policy statements communicated in English. The South African Languages Bill did not go far enough in promoting multilingualism in SA and the Bill had to be expanded. The organisation outlined five requirements that fully functional legislation on language should have. They were: provision for manner of communication between state organs and citizenry with specification of the languages that should be used; adequate detail in the legislation on language related rights; state departments should be sufficiently organised so that language rights could be exercised by the citizenry; provision on how organs of state were to interact with the citizenry and finally a remedies clause. Government should also consider the issue of representation, that is, the Bill should address human resource allocation which should be in accordance with population demographics.

Language activists who were Senior Language Practitioners at the Hansard Unit in Parliament spoke about their proposals which were that the Bill should include a definition of a ‘language practitioner’. The proposed National Language Unit should be amended to National Language Services Directorate that was independent. ‘Personnel’ in Clause 5 should be deleted as it was too vague. Clause 9(1)(c) should include ‘marginalised’ to precede ‘official languages’. In addition in Clause 5, ‘may’ must be amended to ‘must’.

The Committee asked Ms Dana if she thought the Bill would contribute to the promotion of African languages and what more could one do to unite South Africans on the language issue. The FW De Klerk Foundation was asked to clarify why it believed the 2003 Bill was preferable and why there should be language groups from which a preferred African language was to be selected. An MP rejected the Vereniging van Regslui vir Afrikaans proposal that human resource allocation be in accordance with population demographics as this would surely result in segregation. The Committee emphasised the need for the Bill and the fact that it was as a result of a court order.

Meeting report

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