Proposed constitutional amendments: establishment of single human rights body & development of Khoi and San languages

Constitutional Review Committee

31 March 2023
Chairperson: Mr E Mthethwa (ANC, KZN)
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Meeting Summary


The Constitutional Review Committee met virtually to receive proposals on amending the Constitution.

The first was a briefing by the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) on their proposed amendments to the Constitution. The briefing covered the Asmal Report’s recommendation to establish a single human rights body that would comprise the South African Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, the Pan South African Language Board and the National Youth Development Agency. The briefing also dealt with CASAC’s recommendations on how this single human rights body should be structured.

The Africana Justice Association (AJA) urged the Committee to review Section 173 of the Constitution, read with Section 211(3), to ensure that African law applied in South Africa, much like European law in Europe and Asian law applied in Asia. The briefing covered the country's common law, its oppressive past, and the history and development of African law.

The Committee raised concerns about how the proposed African Law Commission would be structured and what AJA’s proposal sought to achieve.

The last briefing was by the Valodagoma NPC on the extent of the development of Khelobedu, the Khoi and San languages, in line with section 6(1) of the Constitution. The presentation covered the historical background and context, the development and testing of the Khelovedu orthography, restoring the dignity of Valovedu, the potential that the fourth industrial revolution could offer the language, and the constitutional imperatives.

The Committee asked about the production of Khelovedu literature, the independent history of the language, and its differences and similarities to Sepedi.

The Committee would consider the submissions as they developed a report on the submissions received. 

Meeting report

Chairperson's opening remarks

The Chairperson said the Committee would be receiving three presentations regarding submissions that had been submitted to the Committee.

The first presentation would be from the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC). The Chairperson thanked CASAC for their presence and for assisting the Committee in understanding their document submission. He said their presentation would allow the Committee to engage with the submission. He assured CASAC that their presentation would be considered and discussed with the full Committee for recommendation in their report, and then sent to the House.

The Chairperson directed Mr Lawson Naidoo, Executive Secretary of CASAC, to introduce his delegation and then take the Committee through the presentation. He noted that CASAC would be given only 30 minutes to present. He thanked Mr Naidoo for taking the time to compile the presentation documents and ensuring the Committee received them on time. 

He said CASAC was welcome to raise whatever matter or gap in the Constitution it wanted the Committee to understand and consider.

Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC)

Mr Naidoo said the submission CASAC made was based on a report compiled by an ad hoc committee submitted to Parliament in 2007. This ad hoc committee was chaired by the late Professor Kadar Asmal, and looked into the structure of Chapter 9 institutions and their efficiency and effectiveness. Prof Asmal was a founding member of CASAC in 2010, shortly before he passed away. This report had been on Parliament’s agenda for some time. Those present last week at the National Conference on the Constitution held by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DJCD) would note that this issue was raised and discussed. 

Mr Naidoo said that, given this context, the presentation was timely. The issue had been on Parliaments’s agenda for some time and had made it into several handover reports throughout the third, fourth, and now sixth administrations of Parliament. He hoped that the sixth administration would use the time left to move the discussion on the Asmal Report, but specifically the proposal to establish a single human rights body. CASAC was aware that Parliament had called for a single human rights body due to similar submissions. This was an opportunity to properly engage with CASAC’s submission, based on the Asmal Report. The presentation would not take up to 30, minutes as it was straightforward. 

CASAC submission

Mr Dan Mafora, Research Officer, CASAC, presented the Council's submission to the Committee.

He said this submission was made on the basis of the report of the ad hoc committee on the Review of Chapter 9 and Associated Institutions  -- the Asmal Report -- which was submitted to the National Assembly on 31 July 2007. The Asmal Report recommended the establishment of a single human rights body comprising the South African Human Rights Commission; the Commission for Gender Equality; the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities; the Pan South African Language Board; and the National Youth Development Agency.

The SHRB would achieve the following objectives:

  • minimise the risk of duplication of roles due to overlap between mandates;
  • optimise the use and allocation of  human and financial resources and improve administrative efficiency;
  • be more accessible to the public, with a one-point-stop for the lodging and processing of complaints; 
  • ensure an integrated and interdependent approach to addressing human rights violations;
  • be directly accountable to Parliament to ensure its independence; and
  • improve Parliament’s democratic oversight over independent institutions.

CASAC Submissions

CASAC fully supports the implementation of the Asmal Report, and proposes the following structure:

  • The single human rights body (SHRB) should have demarcated focus areas with an overarching governing structure. This would require an administrative consolidation of the different institutions into a leaner organisational model that would deliver quality output efficiently.
  • The SHRB should have a provincial and regional presence across the country.
  • A formal system to transfer complaints incorrectly lodged with another Chapter 9 body to the SHRB should be established, instead of requiring a new complaint to be initiated elsewhere.
  • The SHRB should be independent of the executive, and its independence should broadly be in line with the provisions of section 181 of the Constitution.
  • The number of commissioners must be rationalised for the SHRB to execute its mandate effectively.
  • Currently, there are 58 commissioners and board members across the five institutions, and CASAC proposes that a process of natural attrition in transitioning to the new SHRB should be allowed to happen.
  • Attrition would entail not filling the vacant posts created by the expiry of the terms of the existing commissioners.
  • Attrition must also be balanced against the need for expertise in each area of focus.

CASAC proposed the following regarding appointments:

  • The process and criteria for the appointment of commissioners of the SHRB must be clearly defined, including explicit expertise and experience requirements.
  • Appointments must be for fixed-term tenures, considering the need for continuity.
  • The appointment process should be an open parliamentary process, including the appointment of the chairperson of the SHRB and the commissioners by the National Assembly by resolution.
  • No discretion should be vested in the President or any other member of the executive.
  • Remuneration of commissioners should be standardised to eliminate disparities.
  • Formal provision for the participation of civil society organisations in the appointment process should be made.
  • The allocation of roles between commissioners and administrative staff must be carefully considered.

CASAC proposed the following regarding oversight:

  • The relationship between Parliament and the SHRB should be clearly set out specifically in relation to the appropriation of funds for its operations and Parliament’s oversight role over its functions; and
  • A portfolio committee dedicated to overseeing Chapter 9 institutions, including the SHRB, should be considered.

CASAC submitted that Parliament must act urgently to fully implement the recommendations in the Asmal Report.

(For more details, see annexure)


The Chairperson said the Committee had the documents and had gone through them. The Committee still had to discuss the documents in detail, but it would be helpful for the Committee to raise concerns that needed clarification as the authors were present in the meeting. 

He asked the Committee to raise their concerns, and for the Committee Secretary to tell him if Members had raised their hands.

The Committee Secretary said no hands were raised, and that Ms A Maleka (ANC, Mpumalanga) was the only Member present. 

The Chairperson said he would proceed in that case. CASAC had stated that the single human rights body needed its own portfolio committee, and he therefore wanted to know how this portfolio committee would be established. He wanted to understand if what was meant was that the portfolio committee would oversee all Chapter 9 institution issues, as these institutions all served different purposes. He asked how this would be synchronised into one portfolio committee.

CASAC's response

Mr Mafora said the question concerning the portfolio committee was a good one. He said perhaps the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) should not report to the portfolio committee due to their distinct purposes. CASAC suggested that the portfolio committee that oversaw Chapter 9 institutions should not just oversee the single human rights body, but the Public Protector too. 

He was unsure how portfolio committees in Parliament were formed, but it would be interesting to look at. The structure of the portfolio committee was up to Parliament to decide, and it was Parliament’s duty to ensure that all the parties were represented proportionally to their share of seats in the National Assembly. 

He said he had missed the second question.

The Chairperson rephrased his question about staffing the SHRB and how it had been stated that the only way to phase people out was to wait for people to retire and not replace them. He asked how long the process of waiting for people to retire or leave the system would take. How long would it take to implement CASAC’s proposal? 

Mr Naidoo responded to the question regarding the formation of a portfolio committee for Chapter 9 institutions. He said this was an idea first postulated by Professor Hugh Corder in 1999 in a report looking at the oversight functions of Parliament. It was an issue that had also gained some air during the State Capture Commission Inquiry proceedings. One of the recommendations of the State Capture report had also referred to such a committee. He said Mr Mafora was correct, because where there were institutions such as the IEC and the AGSA with specific functions, with departments that were responsible for them, it would be appropriate to retain those. The argument for an overarching portfolio committee on Chapter 9 institutions was to ensure the reports and their recommendations from all these bodies received due attention and were taken up by Parliament. 

Responding to the Chairperson’s question concerning staffing, he said the staffing concern was more about the commissioners of the various Chapter 9 institutions. There was a large number of commissioners across all of the institutions, and this needed to be rationalised. Therefore, Parliament would first have to consider the optimum number of commissioners for a single human rights body. For example, if the figure decided upon was 12, and currently, there were over 50 commissioners, there would be a need for a process of attrition and one would have to look at the detail of the tenure of each of those people to see when this position would be reached. If the transitional period was found to be too long, Parliament would need to use other mechanisms to truncate this process and say that these positions would be terminated at a certain date. These were the details that Parliament needed to grapple with once it got into the detail of establishing a single human rights body.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Naidoo, and suggested that CASAC be specific in their report and indicate which Chapter 9 institutions could be consolidated under one committee, as the Chapter 9 institutions currently belong to different committees.

Mr Naidoo said the Chairperson was correct in his suggestion, and Mr Maffora had touched on this in his presentation with the slide stating that the Asmal Report recommended the establishment of a single human rights body, and that it would comprise the South African Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, and two statutory bodies that were not currently Chapter 9 bodies. These were the Pan South African Language Board and the National Youth Development Agency.

These five bodies were as per the Asmal Report, which was very clear as to what they were focused on. They were not focused on the Public Protector, the Auditor-General or the IEC, as these bodies performed specific functions. 

The Chairperson thanked CASAC for their presentation, which gave the Committee greater clarity and understanding. Their proposal would assist the Committee in crafting their report that would be taken to the National Assembly. The Committee would be airing their views on the proposal when the full Committee met, and CASAC would be sent their views at the end of that meeting.

Africana Justice Association (AJA)

The Chairperson invited Mr Matome Chidi, Director, Africana Justice Association (AJA), to proceed with the Association's presentation. The Committee had already received the presentation, and Mr Chidi would be providing clarification on what the presentation meant. Mr Chidi wanted the Committee to consider taking up the matters he raised in his submission. 

Mr Chidi introduced himself, and said he was alone in the meeting. He made the submission as an individual, but when the AJA became aware of his submission that proposed the amendment, it adopted the programme. This was why they were proceeding under the umbrella of the AJA.

The AJA sought to advance human rights, land and related reforms, and contribute to thought leadership. It believed this was an important programme in respect of leadership, but also requiring reforms of the law to be at the centre.

What the AJA wanted to achieve was to ensure that African law applied in South Africa, much like European law applied in Europe and Asian law applied in Asia. AJA sought consideration of the reasons why the common law applied in South Africa, and the country's challenges to review Section 173 of the Constitution read with Section 211(3) of the Constitution.  

He said at the centre of Section 173, and what they found problematic, was the dedication to the development of the common law, but not African law. The common law had been developed over 300 years and was now settled -- fully developed -- but there were still resources being allocated to its development. 

Mr Chidi said the issue was captured well on pages 17 and 18 of their main submission. European immigrants had gained control of the country and imposed their laws which were South Africa's common law. The law applicable in South Africa was their law. In the process of this imposition, the rights of people of colour had been trampled on and the Europeans had seized control of the main asset, namely land. This was because without land, one could not control the country. To solve the land reform issue, an African solution was needed for this African problem. 

He quoted a comment made by Judge Colin Lamont from the Equality Court, which could be found in paragraph 5 on page 18 of the AJA’s main submission. Judge Lamont’s comment stated that “ever since the first immigrants had arrived from Europe, they had no regard for rights -- social, political, economic or otherwise -- of other persons inhabiting the Republic.”

Mr Chidi said South Africa had the right to apply African law, but this right was being abused and this needed correction.

Review of Section 173 of the Constitution, read with Section 211 (3) - the Afrikan Law Review

Mr Chidi said one should not perpetually pride oneself in applying a foreigner’s law. The was a need to jam the brakes on the perpetuation of this process. One of the grounds for excluding Afrikan law was that it was law which the oppressors never imagined governing them and their affairs, and was of an inferior nature. The operative mind of the persons seeking to perpetuate, from the previously advantaged perspective, involved the oppression of the “natives”, and should be so understood.

There were three sources of common law -- European authors/authorities, court judgements, and legislation developed based on these two. The oppressive past meant native customs did not apply to "civilised people" -- persons who observed the European way of life -- and African law did not apply to civilised people. In 2023, African law still did not apply to the previously advantaged. Colonial arrogance still permeated the country's constitutional order.

Mr Chidi referred to the intention to develop a law allowing a woman to marry two men, which was polyandry, but such a practice was not African. However, it may become law, and those who oppose this non-African practice are labelled in many ways. He gave details of how African marriages were rejected on moral grounds by European courts. 

He said African law was subject to common law, and public policy was grounded in European values, so everything an African did had to comply with European standards. Since 1994, this philosophy has not changed insofar as the practice of the law was concerned. The language, however, was not in express terms, as was the case before 1994. Expert evidence still needed to prove African law. Even at this stage, African law did not apply to persons who were called Europeans. The reason was still the same -- the law of the uncivilised people could not apply to civilised people.

In essence, Africans were reduced to children, who had to learn European ways and knowledge in their formal and conventional education. This included a Bachelor of Laws (LlB) degree -- a study course for students to learn European law, which had been imposed, adopted and developed over many years. One should not say this was grounded in racism, but it is.

The Constitution seemed to protect a racially discriminatory practice through Section 173. This was evidenced by the fact that the higher courts had an inherent jurisdiction to develop the common law, but not in respect of African law. This meant that to develop African law, a person called an expert must give evidence of the relevant law, but no expert shall be called on common law.

Referring to Section 211 (3) of the Constitution, Mr Chidi said African law was applicable only when legislation existed, but not concerning the Common law. That legislation had to deal with customary law. Still, even if legislation existed, it would apply only to Africans.

The AJA's solution was that only one set of laws should be applicable, which should be the law of Africans, subject to the Constitution. The common law should be an alternative. More than 300 years of development of European law was sufficient, and it needed to be stopped. The many years of the development of African law should be the solution. Professionals should lead the change, but it was everyone's constitutional obligation and responsibility. The absurdity in section 173 should be removed.

(For more details, see annexure)

Mr Chidi ended his presentation by noting that in the end, they would be judged strongly for failing to ensure what ought to have been done. African solutions were needed for African problems. He said this was not a political statement, but a legal one.


The Chairperson thanked Mr Chidi for his presentation, and added that there was a thin line between a political statement and Mr Chidi’s conclusion. The Committee definitely would look into Section 173 and the subsections identified.

He asked how the African Law Commission proposal would be structured, given that South Africa had various languages and tribes.

Mr Chidi said most languages did not differ, although there were exceptions to this. He responded regarding the proposed Commission and how it would function, and said the presentation had mentioned the principle of sharing and the communal use of land. This was something that applied everywhere -- it was just called different names. If the Commission was indeed established, it would perhaps guide the country on how the communal use of resources should be utilised and understood in African communities in general. If there were exceptions -- for example, Venda customs -- these would be recorded and subjected to constitutional muster, and thus create a sense of uniformity. 

He provided an example of the law of adoption, and said the adoption principle applied to all communities. It would be recorded, and then an understanding of how it worked in different communities was needed. For example, in Limpopo, there would be representatives from each tribe who would then meet together, similarly to when the Constitution was drafted. They would come together and discuss how their society observed the principle of adoption to produce a manual on how the principle would be applied. Perhaps different tribal groups in Limpopo and across the country would seek to identify common features, and those common features would then be recorded as law. Where there were exceptions, it would be stated that a particular group agreed with the main principle, but these were exceptions. There would be a sense of uniformity. For example, if there was a legal issue involving a particular tribal group in Johannesburg, the recorded principle about this particular tribal group would be applied. 

He said this was input, but noted that efforts to develop African law would be difficult. However, it was also difficult to develop the common law, so it would be difficult to develop African law resources for that purpose. There was a South African Law Reform Commission in Parliament, but there was no indication of a development of customary law. If it could be done with this Commission, he did not see how they could fail to do it with African law. 

Mr Chidi said young people needed to be brought in too, because those with more than 40 years of experience were more likely to be happy with the law they knew. One would also require people from all over the country. 

The Chairperson asked the AJA, if they were to put this systematically, how they would draw organograms for this proposal. There were tribal groups where imbizos could be conducted, and those like the AJA who were writing for language purposes, and there was also the legislation. Where should the Committee start when approaching section 173 to ensure that a desired balance was struck between African law and common law? He wanted this information so he could understand the proposal clearly. 

Mr Chidi said for the Commission to be resourced, there should be legislation that governs the function of this information. The amendment of the Constitution would state it must be this legislation, but there was a question of how the Commission would be structured. His preliminary view was that there would be a person who would chair the Commission and other executive members of the Commission who would perhaps be called the commissioners. There should be different subjects focused on. If the prioritisation of the law of adoption was important, then there would be a research team within the Commission tasked with working with people outside the Commission. In other words, one would invite members of the communities to make submissions. 

Mr Chidi commented that African law was not best known by those who claimed to be educated, but by community elders. Therefore, an intervention programme was needed that focused on consultation with the elders and those who were not necessarily educated but possessed the necessary wisdom. This information would then be used as a guide to developing that principle. He added that the research unit was satisfied there needed to be a process to finalise the study, and the product would be a chapter in African law reform which would be what was called the law of solution. It could perhaps be the law of contract, as many agreements did not fulfil the requirements of the common law. For example, if there were agreement on the exchange of cattle, pigs and goats, which was something practised, it would be necessary to invest time in looking at the structure of these agreements, and whether they were not enforceable in a court law due to their non-compliance with the principles of common law. To determine how these agreements should be understood, a chapter was produced, giving the structure of researchers and people outside of the Commission.

He said there was a struggle, because lawyers were not interested in this type of work, but there had to be a national effort to build African knowledge. A resource they could use was retired judges, who had a lot of wisdom to share, despite having accepted the common law as law. The structure of the Commission would be researchers, commissioners and people from specific communities assisting in the process. In the case of communities assisting, somebody needed to facilitate this as the entire country could not be consulted. The assistance of voluntary programmes such as the Black Lawyer’s Association could be approached for their services, simply to record what they were taught by elders who were unable to write, and this would be brought to the attention of the researchers. In the end, there would be chapters on the different subjects.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Chidi, and said his input would assist the Committee in drafting their report. He foresaw a lot of engagement with their office to clarify issues that would arise, given the AJA's examples regarding Section 173. 

He asked if the AJA’s proposal involved the acknowledgement by the legislature of their issue so that discussion could begin about forming structures, such as the Commission and researchers. He asked Mr Chidi to summarise this under section 173. 

Mr Chidi said the AJA wanted section 173 to be amended as proposed. The amendment specified the time frame in which it should be established, and this would lead to the established legislation and then later, to the establishment of the Commission.


Mr Khutso Selowa, Director, Valodagoma NPC, said he was accompanied by Dr George Mahashe, a senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town, Dr Tebogo Rakgogo, a lecturer at the Twshane University of Technology, and Mr Kgothatso Seshayi, the co-creator of the Khelovedu Orthography.

Giving the historical background, Mr Selowa said Valovedu, at some point in their history, had contact with the people presently known as VhaVenda and North Eastern Sotho people. Khelovedu, as a language, still had distinct grammatical features, which suggested that it was an independent language.

Up until when the apartheid government took power in the 1940s, the indigenous languages were being developed by missionaries. The apartheid government demoted Modjadji from being a queen to being a chief, along with their language and, subsequently, culture. Although the government had since restored Modjadji’s title of queen, the language was still subjected to dialect status.

Despite Khelovedu being an independent language, Lovedu learners still had to do Sepedi as a “mother-tongue” language at school. The word mother-tongue was a misnomer to Valovedu, because the language they spoke at home was not the same as the language they were required to do as a home language at school.

Instead of solving the problem by letting Lovedu learners and teachers work with Khelovedu as their home language, programmes were being developed that forced teachers to help their learners first comprehend Sepedi before teaching them, instead of developing the Khelovedu language and allowing both teachers and learners to continue interacting in their mother tongue, which was Khelovedu.

Valovedu has been unable to develop a useful oral tradition because they did not have access to the language in its entirety, due to their language being Sotho-ised.

Development and testing of Lovedu orthography

The Lovedu language resulted from the amalgamation of Karanga, Ngoṋa and Sotho. The statement that "it approximates to Venḓa in much of its vocabulary, falls midway between Sotho and Venḓa in grammatical structure, but Sotho-ised in phonology, but many of its sounds are unknown in Sotho,” made by the Kriges in 1943, could not be more true.

Due to the similarities between the Lovedu and Venḓa languages, an orthography akin to the latter was developed for Lovedu. A developmental dictionary was made available to the public to initiate a review and testing process for possible standardisation of the orthography. With the Bible Society of South Africa green-lighting the translation process for a Lovedu bible, the developed orthography was put to the test.

The review committee consists of about 15 individuals speaking four different varieties of Khelovedu -- Khekhwevo, Khedzwabo, Kheroga and the Mamaila variety. Including these different varieties ensures that not only a single variety will be represented in work produced, thus side-lining other groups, leading to a superiority complex in those whose dialect is represented, as well as marginalisation of the excluded varieties. This inclusion also benefits the language, as it expands and enriches the written form with a vast number of vocabulary as utilised by the different groups. The presence of the elderly as part of the review committee provides an added benefit, being the recovery of vocabulary displaced by the standard Northern Sotho forms in the language.

Struggles of Lovedu learners doing Sepedi as a home language

A study titled “Exploring Grade 8 Khelovedu-speaking learners’ writing challenges in Sepedi Home Language in Mopani District, South Africa,” indicated the following:

  • According to the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), which guides teaching and learning in South African public schools, the home languages offered at schools in the Mopani District are Sepedi and Xitsonga (Department of Basic Education, 1997). Therefore, learners raised in Khelovedu communities, who speak Khelovedu at home and socially, are compelled to learn Sepedi as their home language in schools.
  • Despite Khelovedu being an independent language, Lovedu learners still have to do Sepedi as a “mother-tongue” language at school. The word mother-tongue is a misnomer to Valovedu because the language they speak at home is not the same as the language they are required to do as a home language at school.
  • In 2015, learner performance in Sepedi was reported as a 53.71% pass rate in the Greater Tzaneen Municipality, where the Maputa Circuit is located (Observer Newspaper 2016). The learners’ performances are 14.59% less than the national average, posing a serious concern in the district. According to basic education requirements, to proceed to the next grade, one must have passed their home language.
  • It was evident from the data presented in the study that the Grade 8 learners were struggling to write in Sepedi, because it was not their L1 or home language.
  • Learners spell as they speak, they have limited vocabulary in Sepedi, and consequently, end up using Khelovedu words in Sepedi writing. As a result, their spoken language appears to interfere with their writing instead of being additive.
  • This supports Kroll, Barry and Vann’s (1981) conclusion that the writing of all learners closely resembles ‘talk written down’, which is likely to incorporate many features of speech, including speech sounds of their language.
  • All these experiences are contrary to behaviourist theory, where learning will occur more frequently when followed by reinforcement, imitation and association, under controlled conditions, as pointed out by Skinner (1957).

Restoring the dignity of Valovedu and the potential that 4IR can offer Khelovedu

The position of KheLobedu as a dialect of northern Sotho/Sepedi, or as a marginal language in the South African official language family, had roots in a punitive exercise by colonial and apartheid-era governments. This punitive measure was manifested in the demotion of Queen Modjadji to a chieftainess in the 1970s, with a systematic suppression of a missionary and civil-led language standardisation process.

The issue of the demotion of Modjadji to chieftainess was addressed with the restoration of the Balobedu Royal status in 2016. What remains was the restoration and the development of the language to the point that it could gather the constituency associated with the Balobedu Queenship or kingdom.

The question of making KheLobedu official was not just about securing the constitutional mandate allocated in terms of language rights, but also about restoring Balobedu -- through fostering self-pride in an official status-- into the franchise of the South African nation. It carried the importance of reassuring Valovedu that they are a part of South Africa by elevating their language, culture and identity.

The opportunity for Khelovedu in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) era would be the development of digital tools for low-resourced languages like Khelovedu, with very little published material. An opportunity for unpacking Khelovedu was offered by recordings drawn from the Bible translation.

The Constitutional imperatives involved were:

  • Section 6(5) of the Constitution and its interpretation;
  • Section 6(5b) of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) mandate;
  • Section 7 (18) of the Constitution and its interpretation; and
  • Section 2 of the Traditional Leadership and Governance framework,

(For more details, see annexure)


The Chairperson read a Khelovedu passage, and said that this African language needed to be learned. The presentation had been interesting, and he asked the Committee to engage with the report. He added that if he were to read a Khelovedu passage, he would read it in Zulu, and it was true that some words were similar even though written in a different language. He understood the need to have this language recognised. 

He asked the Committee to engage with the presentation, and acknowledged the presence of his co-Chair, Dr Motshekga, who had been engaged in another meeting.

Dr Motshekga asked if Valogoma NPC believed the question of orthography had been settled, and said what was now needed was the settlement of the question of literature. With the mainstreaming of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres, was the Valodagoma NPC ready to produce literature for ECDs?

Valodagoma NPC's response

Mr Selowa said they believed that because of the archive work they had been doing on the orthography of Khelovedu, the question of its orthography was settled. With the work they were specifically doing with the Bible Society, solid ground was being given for more literature to be produced. This was because this was the most tested and agreed-upon orthography in Khelovedu. Therefore, they would continue with this. 

Dr Mahashe said the orthography question was settled, and it was just a matter of time for things to be streamlined to the point that everybody could easily buy into it. The point that remained was that a sense of pride in Khelovedu needed to be established to produce more literature. The orthography and a sense of pride went hand in hand -- without it, not enough material would be produced. However, they were ready to meet this demand.

The Chairperson said in terms of the Nguni languages, such as Xhosa, Swazi and Zulu, there were great similarities with identical spelling in most cases. He asked how different Sepedi and Khelovedu were -- was it in the pronunciation or spelling? He understood the history of Khelovedu being undermined, but wanted to understand how similar Sepedi and Khelovedu were.

Dr Seshayi said a simple response to this question would be that Khelovedu had a high volume of vocabulary similar to Venda, due to the interactions between the two groups. Khelovedu also retained grammatical structures that were akin to Venda. The Khelovedu, in relation to Sepedi, interacted with North Eastern Sesotho, which possessed much more primitive sounds, as stated by the missionaries. This was why Sepedi was more advanced in its phonetic structure, and it also possessed much more vocabulary than mainstream Sesotho. Khelovedu had features of primitive Sesotho and a lot of vocabulary from Venda and the Karanga language, similar to Shona. This was what made Khelovedu different. 

The two languages did share similar grammatical features due to their interactions with North-eastern Sotho, and they shared a baseline phonological process. However, there were differences. For example, the word for child in Sepedi was 'ngwana,' and in Khelovedu, it was 'nyana.' He said these two words were cognates, but in the phonological process applied in the two languages, the words were similar but different. He said the word 'nyana' did not mean anything to a Sepedi person, but a linguistic background could determine that the word meant child and was 'ngwana' in Sepedi. He said this applied to several words. 

Co-Chair Motshekga asked if Valodogoma NPC had investigated the independent history of the Khelovedu about the Rozvi Empire, which covered Great Zimbabwe, and included Southern Mozambique, Eastern Botswana and the Northern Province. He asked this question because the presenters were making linkages with Venda and Sepedi.

Mr Selowa said with the last submission that was made, there had been a resource that included the history of Khelovedu. Dr Seshayi had prepared this resource, and he asked for his input on this topic. 

Dr Seshayi said the resource covered the history of the Khelovedu, and the development of the language and oral history traced the origin of the language to the Rozvi Kingdom in Bukaranga, which would be located in present-day Zimbabwe. Here they spoke a Karanga dialect, and through their migration down south and interactions with other groups, they had formed a language that was akin to an early form of Venda. When the Venda were conquered, the two languages separated and Venda adopted language features from their conquerors, and Khelovedu did not. Later, the Khelovedu dialect spoken was influenced by the surrounding North-eastern Sothos and formed the Khelobedu language known today. The historical interaction between Khelovedu and the Pedi would come later on, and therefore Khelovedu could not be thought of as a dialect of Sepedi, as this would be incorrect. Sepedi was not a direct influence -- it was indirect, and had occurred through the influence of the Modjadji.

Mr Selowa thanked the Chairperson and said they had covered all aspects of their case, and if the Committee still had issues, they were willing to engage through email and provide assistance. 

The Chairperson thanked Mr Selowa for the detailed presentation and for teaching the Committee about this language. This was also a reason to go back and study the country’s history. The Committee would look into this matter when they met. There would be continued engagement with Valodogama NPC where issues arose, and they would be asked to engage in person or in writing.

Committee Matters

The Chairperson thanked the Committee and the administration for putting together all the material. He said they had come to their last briefing and proposed that the Committee have a meeting next week to allow the crafters of the report to consolidate all the matters so they could see which matters were a priority as they went into the second term. One or two of these matters needed to be addressed, but it would not take more than 30 minutes to address this and allow the administration to continue their work.

Dr Motshekga agreed with the Chairperson, and said that for too long, they had conducted themselves as though they were Parliament, and had lost sight of the fact that their recommendations still needed to be sent to another committee. What the Chairperson proposed would assist them in advance so that recommendations could be sent to the other committee and the matters could then be sent to Parliament. Parliament was the body that had to make the decisions. He said that the Committee spent a lot of time considering legal options, but no recommendations were being made to Parliament, which meant it was as if this Committee did not even exist. He suggested that the proposal should be considered seriously by the Committee. 

The Chairperson thanked the co-Chairperson, and asked the administration staff how possible this was. 

Ms Sisanda Sipamla, Committee Content Advisor, said that because it would be the constituency period, a special application needed to be made to have a Committee sitting during this period. However, the report that spoke to the matters the Committee had already processed could be drafted. What was needed was for the Committee to decide on the recommendations that they wanted to make to Parliament, and for Parliament to decide which issues they would be taking up. She agreed with Chairperson’s suggestion.

Mr Pilate Gwebu, Committee Secretary, said he agreed with Chairperson’s suggestion, but because the proposed meeting was during the constituency period, permission was needed from the Office of the Chief Whip. The leadership of the Committee also needed to ensure that all Members were present, otherwise no decisions could be made -- much like in this meeting, as there were only two to three Committee Members present. 

The Chairperson said the issue was getting permission from the Chief Whip, as the meeting would not require travel, as it would be virtual. The meeting was just to inform Members that they wanted to make recommendations on these matters and finalise things, so the report could be crafted. This was to ensure that a report was crafted in the new term. 

Ms Maleka supported his recommendation but said attendance would be a challenge. She suggested the Committee Secretary could perhaps notify the entire Committee of the urgency of the meeting, and determine everyone’s availability to ensure there were enough people to form a quorum. The procedures to ensure this meeting could be held needed to be followed. 

The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to try to organise a meeting for next week, and send the information or necessary applications to the Committee. This meeting would allow them to process the crafting of the report during recess. 

Dr Motshekga said the Committee needed to make a statement to publicise what issues they were dealing with and where they could assist, so that there was awareness of their existence.

He added that on 27 March, he met with the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, who had wanted to extend his gratitude to them for bringing a delegation to the conference. The Director-General also wanted a meeting with the Committee, because the Department believed that the Committee was critical to reviewing the Constitution, not only through the suggestion of submissions from the public, but from government too. 

The Chairperson said this meeting request was possible, especially if it could be arranged with the Director-General to come and raise his issues in their meeting before the finalisation of the report. He said the outstanding issues would not take long to resolve. 

The Chairperson thanked the Committee and said they would be meeting. Details on the next meeting would be sent to them through the Committee Secretary. 

The meeting was adjourned. 








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