South African Languages Bill [B23-2011]: public hearings Day 2

Arts and Culture

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

This was the second day of public hearings on the South African Languages Bill. The Pan South African Language Board submitted that the Bill currently had 14 section amendments and it proposed 22. The bulk of its proposals was to be found in the 2003 South African Languages Bill. PanSALB proposed that there should be seven Objects of the Bill. The role of PanSALB had to be clearly defined in the Bill. It proposed that of the minimum two languages to be used by government entities, one had to be an indigenous African language. A shortfall of the South African Languages Bill was that there was not a remedies clause. The language policy should be published in all eleven languages on the Department of Arts and Culture’s website within six months of the promulgation of the legislation. PanSALB was proposing the use of at least six languages. Of the six proposed languages, one should be from the Nguni group and another from the Sotho group because there was mutual intelligibility with the other languages from the same group. Any official language should apply to the legislative, judicial and executive functions of government.

The Department of Public Works suggested the Committee should consider including the provinces in the legislative process. The Bill had to define what a language practitioner was. The existing language units should be assisted and their challenges addressed. The Bill should consider establishing a language practitioners’ practice where proper language experts were well versed in editing, developing subtitles, interpreting and translating.

The Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging was in favour of the South African Languages Bill and called for its immediate adoption by the Committee subject to assimilation of some of the views that had been presented during the public hearings. The proposed 18 month implementation period envisaged in the Bill was important because a mapped out plan and policy framework would be laid out for stakeholders to follow. It noted that monitoring was crucial. It called for language diversity and promotion in SA (this included sign language). The role of PanSALB had to be independent, effective and representative especially as it was mentioned yesterday that this entity was dysfunctional.

Iliso Lokhozi pointed out that there were eleven official languages in South Africa and expressed surprise that the Bill envisaged only a minimum of two languages. It was of the view that this was a throwback to the past. Children should be taught in their mother tongue especially since it was black schools that under-performed. This was because the children there were taught in a foreign language. South Africa was a multilingual country and to have legislation that required only two was in direct conflict with the Constitution. Clause 4(2)(b) of the Bill had to include that one of the two languages should be a previously marginalised language. Departments should add more official languages than the minimum two.

The Afrikaner Bond asserted that there was disregard for all languages except English in South Africa. An example of this was that all Bills published on the government’s website last year were in English. It could not be only English that united us; our diversity should be embraced as well. The Constitution acknowledged the diversity of South Africa and the challenge was to provide the correct content for this diversity. PanSALB could make an enormous contribution to the protection and promotion of languages but they fell short on this. The South African Languages Bill did not attend to the promotion and protection of indigenous languages according to the Constitution’s requirements.

The Committee asked if PanSALB was of the view that all official languages should be promoted equally and why it stated that its role was not clearly defined. A Member asked what the role of PanSALB would be if there was to be a tribunal handling complaints. There was some concern that the language units might duplicate the work of PanSALB. The Committee noted there was no specification as to whom the language custodians were in South Africa and a Member suggested that traditional leaders were the custodians of indigenous languages. The lack of enforcement mechanisms available to PanSALB was questioned. Part 4 of the Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging submission proposed financial support for indigenous language groups and the body was asked to clarify this. The Committee asked Iliso Lokhozi about the inclusion of sign language as an official language and what its proposal be on what had to be done to unite people that spoke the same African indigenous language only differently. The Committee clarified if the Afrikaner Bond was requesting that the South African Languages Bill be re-drafted or amended.

Prof Chris Swanepoel of the Department of African Languages at the University of South Africa (UNISA) highlighted the need for local and provincial governments to be included in the Bill as the language issue was not solely a national prerogative. He highlighted the danger of English and Afrikaans assuming default positions should the requirement of a minimum of two languages remain in the South African Languages Bill.

Mr Cerneels Lourens, who successfully brought the court application against the government on the enforcement of Section 6 of the Constitution, said that the Bill was akin to a two-seater scooter instead of a 16 seater taxi as envisaged in Section 6 of the Constitution. Parliament had to set up a structure, policy, plan and framework going forward as this was a long-term matter. PanSALB’s proposal should be taken seriously as it addressed many of the concerns raised during the public hearings. The South African Languages Bill
had to comply with Section 6(4) by stipulating the regulation, use and monitoring of official languages. The main problem with the Bill was Clause 4 and if the Committee accepted this clause then it would have undermined the rule of law and constitutionalism.

The Western Cape Diverse Traditional Leaders said that the Bill’s requirement for a minimum of only two languages meant the other languages would be eroded and marginalised. Indigenous African languages should be preserved, institutionalised and developed as they were cultural products. The suggestion was made that there should be a symposium for Xhosa language bearers to express themselves; there should also be development and promotion of Xhosa and the starting position for this movement should begin at crèches, schools, post-school institutions, academic institutions, in public and at the workplace. Social media applications, the internet and technological devices should be used to mobilise interest in Xhosa, especially for the youth. There should be a platform that included all levels of the National House of Traditional Leaders so that the South African Languages Bill was taken to the people and communicated to them.

The Vriende for Afrikaans organisation suggested that the Bill should reflect the multilingual nature of our country as well as guard over it. Multilingualism was an inalienable right of each citizen. The Bill
had to contribute towards creating correct language attitudes in South Africa that nurtured multilingualism. The Bill should give an account of the advantages of multilingualism. Clause 4(2)(f) should provide for an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. Nobody deserved to have their language abrogated by disuse because of the dominance of English.

The Action Group suggested that ‘monitor’ and ‘regulate’ should be defined in Clause 1 of the Bill. The Action Group expressed concern on how government would execute the monitoring and regulation process. The Bill should ensure that the collective watchdog bodies such as the Pan South African Language Board and the South African Human Rights Commission were not merely toothless dogs. These bodies should ensure the observance of the rules and constitutional rights. The promotion of some languages at the expense of others should be prohibited. Public entities should be forced to embrace a language policy via legislation. There was concern about the responsibility given to the Minister of Arts and Culture for monitoring and regulation of the use of official languages as this might be too much work. A ministerial task team could be assigned to this function.

The LexEditors Forum had two main concerns. The first was about the apparent duplication amongst bodies established by the Bill and the Pan South African Language Board. A perception of duplication and encroachment of powers had already been identified in the relationship between the Pan South African Language Board and the Department of Arts and Culture in the Kader Asmal Commission’s Report. Unless there was a distinction between what was proposed in the Bill and the current role of PanSALB, there may be confusion that would impede progress. The second concern was that there was no mention of language development in the Bill.

The Committee noted that the National Planning Commission’s Vision 2020 discussion document had little mention of the language issue in South Africa. The Committee asked Mr Lourens for his views about mother tongue education. The Western Cape Diverse Traditional Leaders were asked who would be the custodian of traditional languages given that they were suggesting their promotion should be via television. The Committee asked the Action Group what steps should be taken against non-complying government entities.

Meeting report

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