In 2000, a complaint was lodged with the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) to recognise Sesotho sa Leboa as an official language. In response to this, PanSALB called for written submissions on the matter. All the submissions that were received were in support of Sesotho sa Leboa. PanSALB resolved to keep Sesotho sa Leboa as the appropriate official language. In 2006/7, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities and PanSALB made a recommendation to the Parliament’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee requesting that Sepedi be replaced by Sesotho sa Leboa in the Constitution as an official language. A further recommendation was that the language speakers must be properly consulted and public hearings were conducted in 2010.
PanSALB also believed that the request for the recognition of South African Sign Language as an official language had merit. Similar to the Nama Khoi and San communities, the request is much about rights: human, cognitive and language. With respect to Khelovhedu, it is also imperative that the speech communities start with the development of orthography. On the matter of DeafSA, it would be key to establish intelligibility among the speech community and construct orthography. On the matter related to Nama, Khoi and San languages, PanSALB believed that it would be critical important to agree on the principle of intelligibility among the speech varieties and a focus on these varieties is crucial important.
Members expressed disappointment with the manner and pace that PanSALB was moving towards accelerating the process of ensuring that these languages were being recognised. It was unclear as to why the Nama language was discontinued in various schools. A Member warned that PanSALB would need to take a clear decision on the recognition of Khelovhedu, as it was a dialect and therefore this could open-up an opportunity for other dialects to be recognised as official languages.
The CRL Commission reported that it had previously made a submission to the Constitutional Review Committee as an intervention strategy to resolve the challenge faced by the Valovedu community and was still awaiting a response from the Committee. The Commission believed that the matter of protecting and promoting linguistic rights of both diminished and diminishing languages in the country was crucially important. The Commission recommended that these languages should be recognised as official languages of the country and therefore called for the amendment of the Constitution.
Members were disappointed that a Chapter 9 institution like the Commission could possibly cite capacity and financial constraints as one of the reasons some of the matters of language recognition were not followed up. The people had already made it clear that they want their languages to be given an official status and the Committee should just be provided with a “roadmap” on how to get these issues done.
The Department of Arts and Culture highlighted that in relation to the issue of Khoisan languages, the current situation can change if a competent Board of PanSALB was appointed. This Board would ensure that PanSALB fully executed its constitutional mandate of promoting and developing all South African languages including Khoi, Nama and San languages. It must be stated that among the Sepedi speaking communities, there is a section that believed that Sepedi is a dialect of Sesotho sa Leboa (Northern Sotho), as such it should not be had been declared as an official language. It is against this background that there are people who are arguing that Sepedi was erroneously declared as an official language. The Department strongly believed that to be able to resolve this matter, the same approach as that proposed for Khelovhedu should be considered. It is recommended that PanSALB, given its mandate, facilitate discussions and consultations amongst all affected parties to make sure that the matters are addressed in a manner that avoids unnecessary divisions and tensions amongst communities.
Members noted that the Commission and PanSALB were following parallel processes. The Department should try to coordinate the processes that would be followed going forward so that both of the presentations are consolidated with coherent steps that would take us from where we are at the moment to where these communities wanted to be. The presentation by the Department was a good overview of the matters that had been discussed but it also lacked timeframes for completion of all the tasks ahead. Some Members said that the Department’s presentation was giving the impression that not a lot of work had been done and that PanSALB and the Commission were now being requested to start afresh with negotiations, talks and consultations with the speech communities despite the fact that there are consultations and negotiations that had already taken place. It would perhaps be important to hear from the Department in regard to the state of the work that had already been done
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone and stated that this is the first meeting of 2017 and the Committee was looking to catch-up with work from the previous year. The matter of the Sesotho sa Leboa and Sepedi started in 2005 and therefore this was a matter that had been on-going for a while now. Members would be requested to comment and deliberate on desirability of recognising languages like Sign Language of South Africa, Khelovhedu, Khoi, Nama and San languages and so forth.
The Chairperson stated that there had been apologies from Mr V Smith (ANC), Dr M Motshekga (ANC), Ms M Pilane-Majake (ANC) and Mr V Magwebu (DA) and Mr S Swart (ACDP), Mr S Mncwabe (NFP) and Ms T Mampuru (ANC). Mr D Ximbi (ANC) said he may attend the meeting but would be late.
Mr T Motlashuping (ANC, North West) expressed concern about the perpetual absenteeism of some Members as this could be interpreted as not taking special seriousness to the work of the Committee.
The Chairperson responded that the Committee would certainly need to look at the register and notify those Members who had not been attending the meeting.
The Chairperson then requested Members to adopt the agenda of today’s meeting.
Adoption of the agenda
Mr Motlashuping moved for the adoption of the agenda and seconded by Mr B Bongo (ANC).
The agenda was adopted without amendments.
Briefing by PanSALB
Dr Rakweni Moraneng, Chief Executive Officer, PanSALB, indicated that prior to the publication of the presentation, some members of the Sesotho sa Leboa Board suggested that the document be named Sepedi instead of Sesotho sa Leboa. PanSALB instituted an adhoc committee led by the late Prof Mawasha to conduct a research in order to settle the matter. The finding indicated that 64% of the respondants chose Sesotho sa Leboa; 34% Sepedi whilst 5% were undecided. The Board and PanSALB continued using Sesotho sa Leboa as the official language to appear on the documents. In the year 2000, yet another complaint was lodged with PanSALB and this forced the entity to issue a public call requesting the language speakers to make a written submission regarding the matter. All the submissions that were received were in support of Sesotho sa Leboa. PanSALB resolved to keep Sesotho sa Leboa as the appropriate official language. In 2006/7, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) Commission and PanSALB made a recommendation to the Joint Constitutional Review (JCR) Committee requesting that Sepedi be replaced by Sesotho sa Leboa on the constitution as an official language. A further recommendation was that the language speakers must be properly consulted and public hearings were conducted in 2010.
Dr Monareng mentioned that in 2016, the CRL Commission forwarded a complaint to PanSALB to request conclusion and result of the 2010/11 JCR Sesotho se Laboa/Sepedi matter. The complaint pointed to the violation of his right to his language (Sesotho se Laboa) and the fact that there was lack of conclusion on this matter meant that the hearing sessions were wasteful and fruitless expenditure of public purse by Parliament. There was also complaint with PanSALB regarding the elevation of the Sepedi over Sesotho sa Leboa. Valovhedu, Mapulana, Baphuthi, Northern Ndebele protested against their speech being regarded as a dialect of Sepedi considering that the latter is much a Sesotho sa Leboa dialect as they are. The first two speech communities submitted their complaint to PanSALB, CRL Commission and different government departments demanding the same acknowledgment given to Sepedi. PanSALB received more complaints that it was deemed necessary to commission a research to address this matter.
In 2001/2 PanSALB set up a research commission headed by Dr Boshego, funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) entitled: Is Selaboa a dialect or a language? The finding thereof was that Khelovedu is among the 30 dialects of Sesotho se Laboa. PanSALB believes that the request for the recognition of SASL as an official language has merit. Similar to the Nama Khoi and San communities the request is much about right: human, cognitive and language. It is much about dignity, inclusivity and being humane. With regards to the Sesotho sa Leboa/Sepedi, it is imperative that the JCR Committee release the results of the 2010/11 public hearings. This should lead to a conclusive settlement of this matter as this is a matter of human right and dignity. With regards to Khelovhedu, it is also imperative that the speech communities start with the development of orthography. It is important to note that the process of creating official status of language takes a while. On the matter of DeafSA, it would be key to establish intelligibility among the speech community and construct orthography. On the matter related to Nama, Khoi and San languages, it would be critically important to agree on the principle of intelligibility among the speech varieties and a focus on these varieties is important.
The Chairperson appreciated the presentation as this was to assist Members with discussions on whether to amend the Constitution to recognise these languages. It must be clarified that the item on the Khoi and San languages was not part of the submission for the request to amend the constitution but it was a matter that was already being discussed in the public domain.
Mr Bongo said he was disappointed with the manner and pace that PanSALB was moving towards accelerating the process of recognising these languages. The role and mandate of PanSALB was clearly articulated in the constitution and therefore there was an expectation from the general public that the call for the recognition of these languages must be attended to with speed. There was a need for PanSALB to come up with a clear voice on what should happen exactly in regard to the recognition of these languages. The country should have moved swiftly in the recognition of Sign Language as over fifteen countries had already recognised Sign Language as an official language. The acknowledgement of languages like Sign Language, Khelovedu and Sesotho sa Leboa was part of creating and promoting national unity. The Committee should take seriously the recommendations that had been made by PanSALB and present them in the National Assembly before the end of the fifth Parliament.
Mr F Beukman (ANC) wanted to know whether there was any specific reason why the Nama language was discontinued in various schools as this was not stipulated in the presentation.
Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked about the conclusion that was reached by communities in the public hearings that were held in various communities on the issue of Sesotho sa Leboa. She also urged that the Committee should take an urgent decision on the way forward in terms of recognition of these languages. PanSALB would need to take a clear decision on the recognition of Khelovhedu as this is a dialect and could open-up an opportunity for other dialects to be recognised as official languages.
Dr Monareng responded that the finding of the research that was conducted showed that 64% of the respondents chose Sesotho sa Leboa; 34% Sepedi whilst 5% were undecided. The Board and PanSALB continued using Sesotho sa Leboa as the official language to appear on the documents. PanSALB would continue to engage with the relevant communities so as to promote harmony and consensus on the matter of Sesotho sa Leboa and Sepedi. It must be highlighted that it was within the right of every community to request the recognition of their language and this was irrelevant whether this is a dialect or not. The process of recognising a language as an official language of the country was long and arduous. The conflict is likely to arise when a dialect is recognised as an official language while the original language is not being acknowledged. PanSALB was taking cognisance of the urgency and swiftness to deal with the acknowledgment of these languages including Sign Language and Nama language.
Dr Monareng added that indeed the recognition of these languages is also about the promotion of unity and harmony and that is why there was proper and rigorous consultation with the affected communities. There would be a need to incorporate teachers who would be focused on teaching Nama language in schools around the country but particularly in the regions where the language is predominantly spoken. The Committee could be provided with a detailed report on why Nama was discontinued in some schools. PanSALB was clear that it would support the move for these languages to be recognised as official languages. About Khelovhedu, PanSALB highlighted the importance for speech communities to start with the development of orthography. PanSALB was only required to provide assistance in the development of orthography and nothing more. It must also be made clear that PanSALB would be taking a decision on the need for the recognition of these languages purely based on the consultation and public hearings that were held with the affected communities.
Dr Monareng stated that it is indeed true that there are languages that were suppressed in the past and this needed to change going forward. The position of PanSALB is that Sesotho sa Leboa should be recognised as an official language. PanSALB has officially established the National Language Body for the Sign Language Communities and this was aimed at ensuring that the language was able to develop even further. PanSALB did not have any particular problem with calls from various communities for their languages to be recognised as official languages. However, there should be cogent reasons that would be forwarded for those languages to be afforded an official language. There are also engagements that had been undertaken for the recognition of Khoi and San languages.
Mr Bongo indicated that PanSALB should provide a clear “roadmap” that would need to be undertaken by the Committee in order to provide a formal report to the National Assembly that would call for the recognition of these languages and also the amendment of the Constitution.
Dr Monareng replied that the “roadmap” that would need to be undertaken going forwarded still needed to be drafted and this was the responsibility of both PanSALB and the relevant speech communities. The submissions that had been made to PanSALB by speech communities could be presented in the House as they are ready. It would also be up to both PanSALB and the Committee to decide on the exact timeframe in which these languages could be officially recognised in the constitution. PanSALB would need to do the hard work in terms of sitting with the speech communities and draft a way forward in undertaking the whole process. PanSALB could present in the House and request Parliament to consider granting Sign Language as an official status. It would take PanSALB a while to present to the House on the call for the recognition of Nama language and Khoi and San languages.
Dr Monareng explained that the Committee needs to realise that the process of developing a language to be an official language was long and taking a while and PanSALB is required to engage the language speakers or speech communities. It would indeed take a while for Khelovhedu to be recognised as an official language because of the fact that there is still no one with the technical skill to analyse it as a language.
The Chairperson clarified that the responsibility of the Committee is to provide relief where the provisions of the constitution are a hindrance to the realisation of the rights of the citizens in this country. It would be helpful for PanSALB to explain where the constitution was a hindrance in the promotion and recognition of some of the languages that had been suppressed.
Briefing by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities
Mr Edward Mafadza, Chief Executive Officer, CRL Rights Commission; said that the mission of the entity is to foster principles of respect, equality, non-discrimination and free association among and within cultural, religious and linguistic communities. It is important to emphasise that our constitution recognises 11 languages as official and many languages are still marginalised and were not recognised. These unrecognised languages included Isibaca, Isimpondo, Isihlubi, Khoisan, Khilovedu, Sign Language and other languages. The status of Khoisan language shows that the language was mainly spoken and taught in certain schools in the Northern Cape. For example, there was a school in Upington that used to teach about 34 children and it has since burnt down and there was no money to re-build it. CRL Rights Commission recognises that there is now a dictionary on Nama language launched by PanSALB last year, but there is still a need to have a rollout plan that will assist the Khoisan community in learning the language. There is also a need perhaps to get audio books that could be placed in schools as such books are available in Namibia and should be accessible in our school libraries.
Mr Mafadza highlighted that SASL was developed naturally and deaf people used SASL to communicate for centuries in spite of history of oppression by the wider society. SASL will continue to exist many centuries to come and this is in line with the saying: “As long as there are deaf people, there will be a sign language”. According to 2011 South African Statistics, SASL has 1.6 million users and there are 45 deaf schools with 18600 learners in South Africa that use SASL as a language of learning and teaching. Sign Language has not been recognised as the 12th official language. In relation to the status of Khilovedu language, it must be mentioned that Balovedu is a community mainly based in Limpopo, although also scattered throughout the whole country. This community settled in South Africa way back in 1600s and the language spoken by this community is known as Khilovedu. The community’s population is about 2.2 million and the Valovedu community requested recognition of their language way back in 1996. This request was also registered with the Constitutional Court of South Africa on June 6, 1996.
The Commission has made a submission to the Constitutional Review Committee as an intervention strategy to resolve the challenge faced by this community although still awaiting response from the committee. The Commission believes in protecting and promoting linguistic rights of both diminished and diminishing languages in the country. The Commission recommends that these languages should be recognised as official languages of the country and therefore calls for the amendment of the Constitution.
Mr Beukman expressed disappointment that a Chapter 9 institution like the Commission cited capacity and financial constraints as one of the reasons some of the matters of language recognition were not followed up. The Commission should be working together with government departments in terms of identifying students who had studied Nama language in order to offset the capacity and financial constrains.
Mr Bongo mentioned that the presentations that are being delivered in this meeting are expected to guide the Committee on the way forward and the decision to be taken would be based on the information provided. There is a general consensus that the Committee would need to move swiftly and quickly in addressing the matter of recognising these languages. The ANC is a government of the people, for the people, by the people and the Committee would need to adhere exactly to that. The people have already made it clear that they want their languages to be given an official status and the Committee should just be provided with a “roadmap” on how to get these issues done. It would be important to hear how far the Commission was in terms of providing minimum standard on what people should in cases where they experience grotesque human rights abuse, as it was the case to the pastor who was spraying the congregants with Doom.
The Chairperson said that the matter that had been flagged by Mr Bongo was in the public domain and the public representatives are also equally concerned about what was happening within the religious community. The Commission could just touch briefly on the matter without dwelling much.
Mr Mafadza replied that the Commission was organising a joint sitting with the religious community and the report would be presented in March 2017 with clear direction on what needs to be done and where Parliament could provide assistance in dealing with the religious sector. The Commission was clear that there is a need to amend the constitution in order to accommodate these languages that want to be afforded an official status. The Committee should follow all the processes that are supposed to be followed in order to amend the constitution. The commission is satisfied that all these languages that had been referred in the presentation should be part of the official languages and this is the submission that was being made in this Committee. The country could use the Namibian model for the recognition of the Nama language and develop dictionaries that would make these languages to be accessible.
Mr Mafadza responded that the issue of financial constrains was a reality that needed to be articulated as the Commission only had its own office in Johannesburg while the country had nine provinces. This matter had been raised to various committees (like Portfolio Committee on Cooperative and Traditional Affairs) including Treasury. The reality is that the Commission could not effectively implement its mandate if the issue of funding is not being properly addressed.
Mr Beukman raised a point of order and clarified that a lot of work that is done by the Chapter 9 institutions is mainly consultative and collaborating with other government departments.
The Chairperson said what had been raised by Mr Beukman was an important matter as the Commission needed to follow up on all the public hearings with speech communities.
Briefing by the Department of Arts and Culture
Ms Monica Newton, Deputy Director-General (DGG), Arts and Culture Programme and Development, mentioned that the mandate of National Language Service was to develop, promote and protect all official languages through policy formulation and implementation. It is also responsible to develop policy and legislation to regulate and monitor the use of official languages by government. The National Language Service is also responsible for the facilitation and support skills development in the language profession through a bursary scheme. The mandate of PanSALB is to promote and create conditions for the development and use of all official languages, the Khoi, Nama and San languages including Sign Language. The organisation is also established to promote and ensure respect for all languages commonly used by South Africans, including German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil and other languages that are used for religious purposes.
Ms Newton stated that Khelovhedu has historically been always known as a dialect of Sepedi and Sepedi is one of the eleven official languages of South Africa. Recently, it has transpired that some speakers of this dialect are not happy about Khelovhedu not being accorded an official status. Most speakers of this dialect believe that Khelovhedu should be elevated to an official status because it is believed that is different from Sepedi and this is despite the fact that the two are highly mutually intelligible. It should be noted that the reviewing or amending of the Constitution, including the addition or reduction of official languages, is within the purview of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. However, it should be emphasised that before any decision can be made in support or against this proposal, a series of consultation sessions with the speakers of Khelovhedu and the Sepedi speaking communities in general must be undertaken with a view to determine a consensus on this matter. The Department was privy of the fact that any rushed or abrupt decision on a critical matter like this could potentially create unnecessary divisions and tensions amongst the Sepedi speaking communities.
The Department ensured that before a determination can be made with regard to the elevation of the South African Sign Language the following factors should be taken into consideration:
Notwithstanding the current state of PanSALB, a high level of commitment by PanSALB to execute its constitutional mandate of promoting sign language should be considered as an option
The Deaf community, among others, under the leadership of DeafSA, is proposing that the South African Sign Language should be declared an official language
PanSALB needs to give assurance to DeafSA and the whole of deaf community that South African Sign Language will henceforth receive attention that is equal to all official languages in the country
Of course, this commitment can only materialise provided that PanSALB, as an institution that is mandated by the Constitution to develop SASL, and working in conjunction with DeafSA, is determined to put concrete programmes and implementation plans in place that are designed to develop sign language
The Department is aware that several attempts were made by DeafSA to request government to accord Sign Language an official status but to no avail. In relation to the issue of Khoisan languages, the current situation can change if a competent Board of PanSALB is appointed. This Board will ensure that PanSALB fully executes its constitutional mandate of promoting and developing all South African languages including Khoi, Nama and San languages. It must be stated that among the Sepedi speaking communities, there is a section who believe that Sepedi is a dialect of Sesotho sa Leboa (Northern Sotho), as such it should not be have been declared an official language. However, the language that has an official status is Sepedi, and not Sesotho sa Leboa. It is against this background that there are people who are arguing that Sepedi was erroneously declared as an official language. The Department strongly believes that to be able to resolve this matter, the same approach as that proposed for Khelovhedu should be considered. In conclusion, it is recommended that PanSALB, given its mandate, facilitate discussions and consultations amongst all affected parties to make sure that the matters are addressed in a manner that avoids unnecessary divisions and tensions amongst communities.
Mr J Selfe (DA) appreciated the truncated introduction that was made by the Department on the presentation as it helped in broadly explaining the main theme. The previous questions that were raised related to a “roadmap” to be taken going forward to guide the Committee showed that the Commission and PanSALB were following parallel processes. The Department should try to coordinate the processes that would be followed going forward so that both of the presentations are consolidated with coherent steps that would take us from where we are at the moment to where these communities want to be.
Mr Bongo stated that there should be some coordination at the technical level on the “roadmap” that would be taken by the Committee. It is clear that there are similarities between the presentation of the Commission and PanSALB and this proved that the two entities were indeed moving in the same direction. The issue Khelovhedu was raised as early as in 1996 and therefore the matter should be resolved as swiftly as possible. The presentation by the Department was a good overview of the matters that were being discussed but it also lacked timeframes for completed all the tasks ahead.
Dr Lotriet said that the presentation gave the impression that not a lot had been done and that PanSALB and the Commission were now being requested to start with negotiations, talks and consultations with the speech communities despite the fact that there are consultations and negotiations that had already taken place. It was deeply troubling to observe that there is a recommendation that this Committee must start afresh with the consultation process. It would perhaps be important to hear from the Department about the state of the work that had already been done. The assumption was that the Department would simply collate all the information that had already been gathered.
Ms Newton replied that there is indeed a substantial amount of work that had already been done as pointed out and the assumption was not that the relevant stakeholders should start afresh. However, there is still a concern that perhaps Members needed to go back to their constituencies to talk about this matter of recognition of official languages. The recommendation of the Department is that there is a need to go back and tell all the communities concerned about the status of these languages and the progress that had been made thus far.
Dr Mbulelo Jokweni, Chief Director: National Language Service, DAC, responded that the Department took note of the comment and the suggestion that had been made by Mr Bongo on the need to have a coordination at the technical level on the “roadmap” to be taken going forward. It is indeed true that the impression that is being given by the presentation is that there had not been any formal research, consultation or negotiations with the speech communities. However, perhaps it should also have been highlighted that the presentation was purely based on the information that the Department had at the time. The Department was simply underscoring the importance of consultation on the matter.
Ms Newton conceded that the Department and relevant stakeholders had not been working in collaborative and coordinative manner and this is something that would need to be prioritised going forward. The Department would need to have a technical level discussion with PanSALB about how the “roadmap” was supposed to be taken forward.
The meeting was adjourned.
No related documents
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.