South African Language Practitioners Bill [B14-2013]: Public Hearings

Arts and Culture

21 August 2013
Chairperson: Ms T Sunduza (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The public hearings on the South African Language Practitioners Bill continued with further submissions from practitioners. Dr Althea Kotze highlighted the advantages of having legislation to regulate the language practitioners and said that this would professionalise the sector, and help to achieve the desired goals of service excellence in the translating and interpreting industry. She noted that structured training, and continuous education was essential. She called for a well-developed and enforceable code of ethics. Members agreed that all these points should be thoroughly covered in the Bill, so that language practitioners were a truly professional body, and pointed out that this Bill would also assist in the implementation of the Language Act passed in the previous year. Members also followed up on points raised during the previous public hearings, that there were “organic intellectuals” who, although they lacked formal training, were nonetheless expert and experienced in translation services. Dr Kotze believed that their job should not be under-rated but said they would fall into a different category if they were not paid for their services. Professor Beukes, who had given a presentation on the previous day, said that she had suggested that three levels of accreditation might be included and that “organic intellectuals” could perhaps apply within one of those levels, and be regarded as professionals, but the details could probably be left to the Council. She, and Members, were in favour of recognition of prior learning and experience. The Chairperson asked that this point be added to her written submission. Members and the Department of Arts and Culture briefly discussed whether there was a need to include such detail in the Bill, or leave it to regulation, and the Chairperson suggested that perhaps it did need to be included, to avoid the situation where a more academic Council might not choose to recognise.

Ms Kethiwe Marais, another language practitioner, indicated her support for the Bill, saying that she welcomed the creation of a mechanism for implementation of the National Language Policy Framework and regulation and professionalisation of language services, but wished to make some suggestions to improve the Bill. She suggested that there was probably not a need for a complex Council structure, as this profession was still in a developmental stage. She suggested that the roles of Registrar and Chief Executive Officer could be combined, that there be a simpler structure for the Council and that a Code of Conduct should be developed by the Council. She pointed to an apparent anomaly in the Bill, which referred to the Minister and the Council being involved in the Code, in clauses 19 and 3. She suggested that the Council should be empowered to prescribe standards and procedures and determine whether an applicant met requirements for accreditation. Finally, she questioned the process of consultation, as the Pan South African Language Board and the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRCLC) complained that they were not consulted fully or advised of the public hearings. The Department of Arts and Culture undertook to forward proof of consultation to the Committee. Members noted that some similar concerns had been raised by other bodies, agreed that the apparent anomaly must be further debated, appreciated the promotion of multilingualism, and urged that the Bill, which presented an ideal opportunity to professionalise, should be carefully crafted in plain English.

Mr M Sithole and Mr B Mani, Senior Parliamentary Language Practitioners, made a joint submission, suggesting the need to add a number of definitions into the Bill, and said that more clarity was also needed on the functions of Council. Recommendations were made around the composition of the Council, with specific inclusion of Sector Education and Training Authorities and PanSALB. The Council should be able to determine standardised tariffs for each level of language practitioners. Suggestions were also made around the meetings and the Minister’s power to direct the Board to hold an extraordinary meeting. It was suggested that clause 20 specify the elements for registration and accreditation, and a special accreditation of retired practitioners was needed. Members were appreciative of the suggestions and noted that the Department of Arts and Culture would respond. The Chairperson noted that an extension of time was granted for submissions from the House of Traditional Leaders and the Tamil Federation.

Meeting report

Opening remarks
Ms L Moss (ANC), acting as Chairperson, noted that the National Women’s Parliament was in session, and all the information about it would be communicated to the members.

She noted apologies from the Minister and Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture and Members.

Ms T Sunduza (ANC) took the Chair and asked why the Legal Adviser for the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC or the Department) was absent on the previous day.

Mr S Mahatle apologised and responded that he had a prior commitment.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee were advised three months beforehand of the passage of a Bill, and Bills always took precedence over other work, so that she could not accept an excuse of a prior commitment. The Legal Adviser from the Department should have heard all the submissions given on the previous day.

Mr N Van den Berg (DA) agreed that consideration of Bills was of paramount importance. Parliament sometimes sent out the wrong message which made people think we are not dedicated. He added that the presence of the political head was important, since he must give direction and substantiate the political will to drive matters forward.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Van den Berg and stated that the Parliamentary Liaison Officer must take the matter further.

Mr Sibusiso Xaba, Director General, Department of Arts and Culture, noted that he had sent through an apology for his absence, which was due to the fact that he had to attend an audit committee meeting. The Minister was presently not in the country, and the Deputy Minister was in a Cabinet Committee meeting.

The Chairperson noted that it was usually the poorest people who attended Parliament’s public hearings. She noted that Parliament would decide whether or not this was a section 75 Bill, or a section 76 one, in which case the committee would visit the provinces. She noted that there had been requests from more people to make submissions and asked Adv Anthea Gordon, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, to comment.

Advocate Anthea Gordon, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, stated that, in terms of the South African Constitution, that Parliament had an obligation to facilitate public involvement. The Constitution did not prescribe how that must be done, but Parliament had adopted a practice of written submissions being sought, especially from those who would not be available for oral submissions, and oral presentations also given to the Committee.  The Committee could still accept written submissions. 

The Chairperson noted that the Portfolio Committee would grant an extension for a further two submissions, which were from the House of Traditional Leaders and the Tamil Federation. She noted that advertisements for submissions for public hearings were placed them in the national and local newspapers and the radio stations, but even then people sometimes said that they had not known of this.

Dr Althea Kotze oral submission: Language Practice – A Profession
Dr Althea Kotze said that her submission highlighted the advantages of this proposed legislation regulating language practitioners. The desired goal was to achieve service excellence in the translating and interpreting profession. There was no point in legislation that did not adequately address the issue of professionalisation of the language practitioner. Her presentation listed the attributes of the profession and noted that professional training institutions and structured continuous education were essential. The submission called for a well-developed and enforceable code of ethics. A statutory professional body that dealt with accreditation, certification, continuous profession development, licensing, admission control and discipline of the profession was important.

Mr van den Berg (DA) asked for more background on each of these aspects mentioned because this was the backbone of the Bill. He stated that there was a need to ensure that Parliament did achieve the professional aspirations correctly and that they were properly embedded in this Bill, to avoid having weak foundations. There was a need to make language practitioners into a truly professional body. He noted that this was the time when all languages had to be elevated into a different sphere, so more attention was needed to the issue.

Ms Moss agreed that more background was needed to better understand the issues because without education and training there would not be achievement.

Ms T Nwamitwa–Shilubane (ANC) wanted to know how this ethical code for language practitioners would be enforced to professionalise the sector.

Dr H Van Schalkwyk (DA) concurred with her colleagues and wanted to stress again that the professionalisation of the language practitioners profession was very important also for the new Language Bill that was passed in Parliament the previous year, calling on government departments, state entities and provincial governments to use indigenous languages.

Dr Kotze responded that she believed that a professional work ethic was very important and if this was lacking, then the standard of work would be below what was required. A personal work ethic was one where the translator would ensure, before submitting work, that it was correct. In relation to enforcement, Dr Kotze responded that if a client was unhappy with the work, the language company would lose work. Once language practice was regulated by legislation, an accredited and licensed language practitioner would automatically become the first choice of the public.

The Chairperson asked for Dr Kotze’s view on continuous education. She wondered how Dr Kotze would categorise the “organic intellectuals” who were uneducated but were being used as translators in hospitals and in rural areas, to interpret between patient and doctor.

Dr Kotze responded that they did a wonderful job, because they were available on the spot to do the translation. However, they were in a totally different category, because they did not work for money so there was no question of the client being happy or unhappy with paid services.

Mr van den Berg said that he wanted to reiterate the importance of professionalism in this body and the challenge was how we mould this Bill to accommodate all professional and non-professional categories in this body, and he would welcome input from others.

Dr van Schalkwyk noted that professionalising this occupation would also help to develop all indigenous languages in this country and would benefit all our languages.

Mr van den Berg stated that, from his broadcasting background, he was used to hearing poor translations, mostly from English, and that the public seemed to accept them. He was not sure how well the African languages were translated. Afrikaans practitioners tended to work very hard on the translation aspect, but he thought consumers should insist upon proper language use. He noted that his home languages were English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Venda. This Bill represented an important start, as Parliament was sending out a message that it was really serious about language. His party shared that view, and he was quite sure that the ANC was also conscious about the power of language, because language was part of everyone’s history He urged again that the public should not be prepared to accept mediocrity in any translation, that excellence must be promoted, and that this body could help to ensure that.

The Chairperson indicated that Professor Anne-Marie Beukes, who had given a presentation on the previous day, wished to answer a question that could not be answered yesterday, due to the time constraints.

Professor Beukes said that this matter linked quite intimately with the matter that Dr Kotze had raised, and was in response to the Chairperson’s question. In her slide presentation on the previous day, relating to possible levels of accreditation, she had suggested that three levels could be incorporated in the objectives and accreditation framework of the council. She argued that the “ organic translators” might be included in a level one, although this could be left to the Council to decide. In a certain sense this level could be regarded as “entry level”, so that organic interpreters and translators were not excluded and could be referred to still as professionals. However, she did think it necessary to distinguish between the various levels of interpreting and translation, since that would reflect the reality of practice. She did not think, however, that organic interpreters should be excluded.

The Chairperson requested that Professor Beukes add this on to her original written submission, since the issue had not emerged clearly on the previous day. She added that on the previous day, there was a suggestion of a name change from practitioner to professional.

Professor Anne-Marie Beukes clarified that she had suggested that the focus rather be on using the term “language practice profession” because the Bill was about professionalising the practice.

Mr Xaba noted that the Bill provided for the Council to create a framework for accreditation, and accreditation could be done in various ways. He thought that the Council would create a framework for people to be accredited after having gone through a formal qualification to become a language practitioner / language practice professional, or having had years of experience within the practice, which would include those referred to as “organic intellectuals”, within a framework of the Recognition of Prior Learning, which may not be a formal education qualification. The question was what should be included in detail in the Bill, and what should be left to the regulations to be developed by the Council. He had a sense that certain matters should not be prescribed in the law, but rather that Council be allowed to develop the framework that would allow people to get access to accreditation.

The Chairperson did not entirely agree on this point. She recognised that not everything should be included in a Bill, but said that there was a problem in that different people might think differently. She posed the example of a Council made up of professionals who all thought alike, which would be very likely to focus on academic qualifications only, and this would then become an issue, if they failed to recognise less formal training that did not give rise to a formal qualification.

S Botha written submission
The Chairperson noted that an S Botha, who was an independent language practitioner from Cape Town, had made a written submission to the Committee but she was not present. She then read out some of the contents of this submission, which also referred to South African Translators’ Institute (SATI) role in the Bill. The Chairperson felt that the letter was insulting. She asked Professor Beukes if S Botha was a SATI member, and whether the Professor agreed that the Bill was seeking to regulate SATI.  

Professor Beukes stated that these statements could be regarded as a loose cannon. She was unsure if this person was a SATI member, but would be able to check this on the data base. She distanced herself from the contents and tone of the entire submission. She noted that SATI obviously could not take any responsibility for these views, and expressed that SATI wholeheartedly supported the Bill.

Advocate Gordon interjected to point out that, for the purposes of this meeting, the powers and privileges legislation only protect the Members on freedom of speech. She cautioned against engaging members of the public about comments made in the Committee. These proceedings were all being recorded, and it was only the Members to whom freedom of speech was extended.

The Chairperson said that the discussion about “organic intellectuals” tied in with section 28 of the Employment Equity Act which made it very clear that a person may be suitably qualified for a job as a result of a combination of a suitable qualification, capacity to acquire knowledge within a reasonable period of time, prior learning or relevant experience and the ability to do a job. Some employers may focus more on formal qualification leading to certain people being overlooked but the Employment Equity Act was clear on prior learning.

Professor Beukes thanked the Chairperson for giving SATI the opportunity to make a presentation.

Dr Kotze added that a qualification on its own would not make a person into a good or bad translator. She was in favour of accepting for registration anyone, whether or not they were applying on the basis of a qualification, experience or prior education, who could satisfy the application process requirements.

Ms Khethiwe Marais submission
Ms Khethiwe Marais indicated that she strongly supported the Bill, because it gave effect to:
- the Constitutional mandate of creating conditions for developing the use of all official languages
- creation of a mechanism for the implementation of the National Language Policy Framework
- establishment of a professional language Council
- regulation and professionalisation of language services
- raising the status of the profession and safeguarding the quality of language services
- affording protection to members of the public who used language services
- employing professional language practitioners, and the professionalisation of those already in employment

However, Ms Marais felt that there were some aspects that should be changed in the Bill, which she enumerated.

The current Bill separated out the roles of the Chief Executive Officer and registrar. She recommended that these roles should be held by one person or should be under one designation. There should be one central point or focus for registration. If the Registrar was also the Chief Executive Officer, this would simplify matters and avoid conflict of roles and responsibilities.

She also recommended a simple structure for the Council, to establish one central point of responsibility and accountability

She suggested that a Code of Ethics should be developed by the Minister. In this regard, she also pointed to a contradiction in the current Bill, since clause 19(5) suggested that the Minister should determine the Code of Conduct, yet clause 3 stated that the objects of the Council included development, implementation and revision and amendment of a Code of Ethics

She believed that in Chapter 6, clause 20 should give power to the Council to prescribe standards and procedures. The Council should also be able to assess whether an applicant for accreditation met the requirements

Finally, she pointed out that the language service industry was still in a developmental phase and did not need the same kind of complex structures as the legal or medical professions required.

Ms Moss again acted as Chairperson in the absence of Ms Sunduza.

Mr D Mavunda (ANC) noted that the recommendations were good but asked that Members be provided with a hard copy of the presentation, to engage with it fully. He noted the concern over the powers and functions of the Minister and said that clause 19(5) needed to be further interrogated by the members.

Dr van Schalkwyk thanked Ms Marais for her presentation, and said she appreciated her promotion of multilingualism.

Ms Nwamitwa–Shilubane agreed that multilingualism was important and that had to be encouraged in the private sector, where there seemed mostly to be recognition afforded to academics.

Mr van den Berg (DA) said that the Committee must be very careful about the way in which this Bill, in particular, was written, as the language was likely to be carefully scrutinised. He urged that it should be written in plain and understandable English, it must adopt a clinical approach, and every word in the Bill should be used properly and correctly.

Mr S Ntapane (UDM) asked Ms Marais whom she believed must implement the Code of Conduct.

Ms Marais replied that she believed it should be determined by the professional Council, which the Bill did say, although it was contradictory in clause 19. The Minister should be only the final arbiter on matters, and should not actually determine it as s/he should not be both player and referee. If the Minister were t become involved in the details and functions of the Council, there would be no proper line for appeals.

Mr Ntapane (UDM) responded that the Minister was political head of the Department. He asked if it would solve the issue to change the wording to “in consultation with the Council”.

Ms Marais responded that these were the actual functions of any professional Council which should set its own standards, put in place its own code of ethics and conduct for its professional practice and the practitioners. This was what was done with any other professional body.

Ms Marais wanted to make the point that she believed that the process of consultation fell short of expectations. She had spoken to the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) and the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRCLC), both of whom said that they had not been advised of the hearings on this Bill, or that consultation with them was inadequate. Her worry was that if there were these two important organisations who were not consulted, there may be many more. She noted that the process of consultation started way back in 1998, but some of the organisations who were then included were no longer in existence. She thanked Members for the opportunity to present.

The Chairperson referred to the Memorandum on the Objects of the Bill, paragraph 6, which listed all the various stakeholders with whom the Department had communicated and consulted on the proposed legislation and its impact. She asked Mr Xaba if PanSALB and the CRCLC had indeed been consulted.

Mr Xaba confirmed that they could, and, in answer to a further request from the Chairperson, said that he had proof of this.

The Chairperson asked that the proof be sent to the Committee.

The Chairperson noted that the Western Cape Chairperson of the Professional Editors Group (PEG) had noted a number of inconsistencies in the Bill, not only in the awarding of powers to the Minister, but, similar to what Ms Marais had raised, the inconsistencies in terminology between clauses 3 and 19, as one referred to a code of conduct and the other one referred to a code of ethics. The Committee would need to interrogate whether there were two different codes, and look to using consistent language.

Dr Kotze repeated that this was a unique opportunity and urged that the Committee should seize the opportunity to put matters right. There were very few countries with a professionalised language practice occupation or legislation. She really thought the country was moving in the right direction but wanted to stress that in order to pass legislation on it, the occupation must be regarded as a profession.

Mr van den Berg stated that, for the purpose of follow up deliberations and decisions, the Committee needed to get further written submissions, which would no doubt raise concerns related to their own specific background and work, as this would help to improve the final product.

The Chairperson commented that some of the bodies said they saw problems, but would not participate at an early enough stage.

Mr M Sithole and Mr B Mani (Parliamentary language practitioners) joint submission
The Chairperson noted that the Committee had received only two submissions from Parliamentary Language Services, but had expected more.

Mr Mathimba Sithole, Senior Language Practitioner, Parliament, stated that his division was consulted late on this Bill. Essentially, the Bill was noted, and the practitioners believed that more clarity was needed on some aspects.

In respect of the definitions, he suggested that there was a need to include a definition for the following:
Oath of Office; Seniority Levels; Language Professionals; Accreditable; Registrable Language Practitioners, and retired accreditation

He thought that more clarity was also needed on the functions of Council. Clause 4(c) should include a reference to PanSALB.

He recommended the addition of a function to determine standardised tariffs for each level of language practitioners.

In regard to the composition of the Council, set out in clause 5(3)(b), he recommended that the Department of Arts and Culture should be included, but that all other government departments should be excluded. There should also be inclusion of Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) currently accredited by both the Departments of Basic and of Higher Education and Training. PanSALB should also be included.

Instead of merely referring to “stakeholders in the language industry” he suggested that there should be a specification of Senior or Chief Language Practitioners.

Mr Sithole believed that clause 10 should be amended to require the Council to meet twice in each term of the current calendar year and also suggested that the Minister should have the power to direct the Board to hold an extraordinary meeting if s/he deemed it fit.

In relation to clause 20, he believed that the Bill should specify all the elements that constituted a registrable or accreditable language practitioner. As mentioned earlier, the Bill should make provision for a special accreditation of Retired Language Professionals or Practitioners.

Finally, he noted that a submission from the Court Interpreters in the Eastern Cape was added into the end of the document.

Mr Mavunda (ANC) was not sure that he followed the reasoning behind the proposals on clause 4(c), but said that the Legal Advisors in the DAC would be asked to comment on all the submissions and give further input.

The Chairperson thanked the presenters for their very good input. She requested that any further submissions should be sent to the Committee by the following Tuesday.

The meeting was adjourned.

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