Pan South African Language Board: briefing

Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

Portofolio Committee on Social Welfare

16 May 2001


Chairperson: Mr D. Kgware

Relevant Documents
Booklet on PANSALB's focus areas
PANSALB Presentation (see Appendix)

The Pan South African Language Board has been constituted with membership inclusive of all 13 South African languages. The board has rented an office in Pretoria and has 8 administrative officers. The board has been allocated R 11 million. The CEO highlighted that this amount fell far short of the R26 million which the board had asked for. The board appealed to the committee to repeal the law which provided R 2 million to the Afrikaans language whereas the other languages have been allocated significantly less.

Prof Cynthia Marivate, the CEO of PANSALB, addressed the committee on behalf of PANSALB (see Appendix for presentation).

Mr Kgoali (ANC) sought an explanation from the board regarding the marginalisation of the African languages. Prof Marivate pointed to the old Act, which allocated far greater funds to the Afrikaans and English languages to the detriment of the other languages. Prof Marivate challenged the committee to take the matter up in parliament with a view to repealing the legislation.

Mr Tihagale (UCDP) lamented the negative attitude displayed toward African languages by Africans. He called upon opinion leaders to set an example and speak in their mother tongues whenever opportunity allowed. Prof Marivate said that research had shown that Parliament marginalised a sizeable number of people through language.

Mr Witbooi (NNP) called on the committee to play a proper role in soliciting for an equitable allocation of the budget and to ensure that all people's interests were taken into account. Mr Witbooi added that the present structures appeared to favour those who knew how to access the budget allocation.

Mr Songoni (UDM) asked what action was to be taken by the board in respect of the substandard service currently delivered by court interpreters. Mr Songoni said that the medium of communication in the courts was totally disadvantageous to an important sector of the community. Prof. Marivate said that the issue of court interpreters was receiving attention by the board and that to this end, the board had conducted a pilot study. A sum of R250, 000 was currently being spent on training students as court interpreters. The trainees, Prof Marivate continued, had performed quite well. Prof Marivate informed the committee that the Board was considering ways to develop a pool of interpreters. Ms Kgoali (ANC) said that it was unfortunate that Parliament itself was not supplied with interpreters. This, Ms Kgoali insisted, was a critical omission.

Prof. Marivate informed the committee that the board had set up two structures to monitor language use. The National Language committee would be the final authority on language nationally where as the Provincial language committees would give advice on the Provincial language status. These structures, Prof Marivate added, would carry the mandate of monitoring language trends and advising the board accordingly.

Ms Kgoali (ANC) sought to know the languages represented on the board and the criteria used in appointing the board members.

Prof Marivate replied that she was not part of the appointment process. Prof Marivate said that the Minister of Culture, on the advice of the appointments committee, effected the appointments. Prof Marivate explained that as a Board member, she was unable to appoint her colleagues. Furthermore she informed the committee that Cabinet had rejected the first board because it was not representative of all the languages in the country and hence another board had to be constituted. Prof Marivate informed the committee that the current board employed a representative from every language spoken in the country, including sign language where as the first board excluded six languages.

Ms Kgoali asked why the committee had not been consulted on the issue of nominations. Prof. Marivate replied that she could not speculate on the possible reason why the parliamentary committee was side stepped in this regard. The chair suggested that the committee take the matter up with the Minister.

The boards key concern, said Prof. Marivate, was that the service provider had alienated a substantial sector of the population from accessing important information. Prof Marivate contended that a substantial portion of those people who formed part of the survey indicated a need to be taught in English and in their mother tongue. Indeed, Prof Marivate said that a special project the Board had carried out in Phalaborwa indicated that students performed far better in chemistry where their mother tongue was used as the medium of instruction.

Prof Marivate concluded that it was the policy of the Board to lead by example. In this regard, Board members communicated in languages familiar to people at all public seminars and workshops. However, Prof Marivate conceded that public education was necessary for greater change.

Overview of the past five years (1996-2001)

PANSALB, established through the PANSALB Act (1995, amended in 1999), was faced with the challenge of ensuring that the principles of multi-lingualism be upheld, as well as developing the previously marginalised languages.

In order to achieve this, systems had to be put in place to guide its activities and assist it (Board) to realise its mission and vision.

During 1996 a five-year strategic planning session was held and a plan produced. The immediate action taken was to appoint a Chief Executive Officer (as stipulated in the PANSALB Act, 1995) who in turn had to appoint staff and ensure that there is accommodation and all administrative systems in place. The CEO was finally appointed and assumed duties on 1 February 1997.

In order to appoint staff, Rules and Regulations for terms and conditions of service of staff had to be drawn and approved by the Minister (ACST) and the President. These were approved during July 1998. A core staff of 8 was appointed (at various times) to assist with the administration of Board activities. These Rules and Regulations are being revised to accommodate further posts as identified by the Board, to assist especially with the management of its focus areas. The target is that by June this year this process will be finalised to have staff on a full-time basis.

Accommodation has been secured - MBA building, 527 Church Street, Arcadia, Pretoria. With plans to increase staff, an application has been made to the department of Public Works for more offices.

The Board also developed policies for managing its finances and activities per focus area: Status Language Planning, Language in Education, Translation and Interpreting, Lexicography and Terminology, Development of Literature and Previously Marginalised Languages, Language Rights and Mediation, PLCs and NLBs and Research.

In order to assist the Board with its role of advising government on language policy and practice and development of languages, Provincial Language Committees and National Language Bodies have been established.

These Bodies will continually advise PANSALB and Provincial Governments on issues pertaining to the official languages and other languages spoken in those provinces. One of the priority assignments of PLCs is to work hand in hand with the MECs for culture (in their provinces) on developing a provincial language policy and then in future advise, as well as, monitor policy implementation and practice. These bodies will play a key role in assisting the Board to promote multilingualism in the country.

The process of establishing 11 National Lexicography Units for the eleven official languages has been completed. These units will operate as Section 21 Companies and will play a pivotal role in the development of official languages. In order for a language to function in all key societal domains such as education and government, it should have the capacity to do so. This is possible if there is enough terminology to assist communication at various levels between people and organisations. Dictionaries that these units will develop will also play an important role in education.

Members of the Board of directors of NLUs and staff (where they exist) have been provided training to equip them with skills to manage these units. This training is continuing and soon these units will be engaged in co-operative lexicography with the aim of further developing these respective languages.

(a) Status Language Planning
The Board, with limited staff, managed to fulfil its advisory role to government in terms of language policy, practice and implementation. The then Chairperson of the Board (2000) Ms Z Desai served on the Minister of ACST's advisory panel on the draft language policy and plan for South Africa. The full Board discussed the drafts that were submitted to it and submitted its comments and recommendations to the Minister of ACST.

During 2000 a national sociolinguistic survey on language use and language interaction in South Africa was conducted. The results of which assisted the Board to draft Guidelines on Language Planning and Policy Development. These guidelines are useful in assisting government departments and other bodies to start the process of formulating language policies.

(b) Language in Education
The Board provided advice to the Ministry of Education on the language in Education Policy. Suggestions on how this policy can be implemented were submitted to the National Minister of Education, Prof. K. Asmal.

Efforts to work closely with Provincial Education Departments and the National Education Department officials that began during this Board's current term of office will continue. This will ensure that constant guidance regarding the implementation of language in education policy to the Departments takes place. Moreover, the Board's research activities will ensure that reliable data is available to improve policy development, practice and implementation strategies.

(c) Lexicography and Terminology Development
The development of language is a long-term process. The Board's activities thus far aimed at ensuring that the process of developing languages is undertaken. This is linked to the establishment of National Lexicography Units. All lexicography units for the eleven official languages have been established. Members of the Board of Directors have been trained on strategic planning, business planning and general requirements for the Board of Directors. Other training offered staff of existing units where they exist included: lexicography planning and computerisation of NLUs. PANSALB has signed an agreement with a Swedish company, LEXILOGIK, for the computerisation of NLUs. This will assist in creating custom made programmes for lexicography, suitable for the African languages.

(d) Development of Literature and Previously Marginalised Languages
Partnerships with bodies pursuing similar bodies such as then NAC and NFVF. Consultations were conducted with PLCs and members of the existing museums regarding the feasibility of establishing a Literary Museum for African languages.
A training workshop on scriptwriting in indigenous languages (for TV and Radio) was held on Friday 23 February 2001. This will ensure co-operation between writers, language bodies and PANSALB on the one hand; and the National Arts Council, the National Film and Video Foundation, the National Language Service and the SABC (TV and Radio) on the other.

(e) Translation and Interpreting
PANSALB facilitated the process for the establishment of a regulatory body for the translation and interpreting profession. A Bill has been developed and submitted to the Ministry of ACST. In order to support multilingualism, the Board decided to create a pool of translators and interpreters, particularly in African languages and sign language. The first group of 22 was trained and these new graduates will be given work by PANSALB to assist them to perfect their newly acquired skills. The Board will encourage its partners to use the services of these professionals as well. The Board under this focus area facilitated the development of the Human Language Technology Project to support the translation and interpreting profession. The documents on the proposed projects have been submitted to the Minister ACST for consideration.

(f) Language Rights and Mediation
One of the challenges regarding the promotion of multilingualism is that of having the speakers of the languages demanding that their linguistic rights be protected, as part of a human rights culture. The Board did receive and investigated language rights complaints. However, the majority of complaints came from the Afrikaans speaking communities, rather than from speakers of the nine African languages recently accorded an official status. Proper research will have to be conducted to determine the actual reasons behind this and to develop concrete strategies to raise awareness regarding these language speakers' rights.

Should the speakers of these languages not demand the right to use their languages, especially in key domains such as government (access to information) and education, English and Afrikaans will continue to enjoy a privileged status in this country. Moreover, the efforts of developing these languages might prove futile. These languages are being developed to equip them with capacities to function in key domains.

The steps taken by PANSALB during the past five years under this focus area and the experience gained, should lead to a better approach in handling such complaints in future with the view of strengthening democracy. It should also lead to further the development of the nine previously marginalised languages.

(g) Research

The Board is required by law to conduct research that will assist in answering questions on language and provide solutions to language problems. Under most of the focus areas several research and development projects were funded. Some of these projects have been completed (e.g. Markdata's survey on language use and interaction in South Africa) and the results of which are being used to assist the Board in carrying out its advisory role and mandate. Some of the projects will be completed during the next Board's term of office, and these will hopefully, be of assistance to that group as well.

(h) Provincial Language Committees (PLCs) and National Language Bodies (NLBs)
According to the PANSALB Act, 1995 (as amended in 1999), Sections 8 (8) (a) and (b) the Board should establish a Provincial Language Committee in each province mainly to advise it on the language issues of the particular province; and a National Language Body 'to advise it on any particular language, sign language or augmentative and alternative communication

Eight Provincial Language Committees have been established. The process of finalising the Northern Cape PLC is going on. As far as national language bodies are concerned, thirteen have been established: 11 for official languages, 1 for KhoeSan languages, and 1 for sign language/s.

From this year onwards, once the new Board approves a budget for these bodies, they will be functional and provide advice to the Board on aspects related to its strategic objectives per focus area. These bodies would act as the Board's partners in terms of language development, promotion, and creating conditions for the use of languages.

PANSALB members, during the past five years, had to learn a few strategies regarding establishing a new organisation, formulating systems/policies and operational guidelines for all its activities. The fact that PANSALB had to observe government rules in most issues, led to the delay in implementing certain objectives (e.g. appointing proper staff before Rules and Regulations were approved, securing office space), etc.

Another challenge that faced the Board was that of narrowing down its broad mandate as spelled out in PANSALB Act (1995, as amended in 1999); and balancing its activities with the perceived expectations of various communities. On several occasions the Board was labeled as "toothless' when in fact there are stipulated procedures to be followed in the Act, for example, on dealing with alleged language rights violators. Even issues of promoting multilingualism had to be linked to having systems in place for accelerating development of these languages so that they can function in various domains (e.g. NLUs) such efforts undertaken by the Board, not readily visible, led to some members of our communities to think that not enough is being done to develop their languages. With systems in place and activities of implementing objectives of language development and promotion of multilingualism taking place, regular reporting to affected communities via the Provincial Language Committees, National Language Bodies and National Lexicography Units will be possible.

Most Language workers, particularly those from the previously marginalised Khoe and San and Sign Languages, are keen in developing these languages. For example, members of PLCs, NLBs and NLUs have shown great enthusiasm for their work. Co-operation with and between these bodies will enhance the quality and quantity of work done for these languages.

The pool of language teachers and lectures struggling to get work due to, for example, closure of certain language departments should be tapped into for training in the future. There is a dire need for qualified translators and interpreters as well as new skills in the area of language and technology. The use of technology in promoting multilingualism and developing languages should be exploited to the fullest. This would assist in ensuring that the official languages do not lag behind the technological and other developments taking place and avoiding rendering these languages less effective in the eyes of most people.

The legal framework that the government has in place regarding language (Constitutional clauses, PANSALB Acts [1995, 1999] and the draft national language policy and plan gives hope for the future. Bodies such as PANSALB should continue playing an important role in initiating projects that would empower communities to take over language development and promotional activities as an integral part of community development. PANSALB on its own, without the support of government and communities themselves cannot succeed in the promotion of multilingualism and development of languages. Collaboration and co-operation with and between various bodies and organisations will assist in making it possible to fully realise the principle of a multilingual and multicultural societies united in diversity.

PANSALB's future Plans (2001-2005)
Seeing that the new Board has recently been announced, it is not possible to give a final overview of the planned activities for the next five years. The outgoing Board did submit a draft strategic plan to the department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. However, it was indicated to the department that the new Board would study it critically and draft a new strategy that will guide the Board's activities. The first meeting of the new Board is planned for the 31 May 2001. This will be the beginning of strategy formulation and the final plan will be submitted to the Minister, ACST for approval.

The budget received for this financial year (2001/02) is as follows:
PANSALB (Board, staff, operations and focus areas) R11, 000, 000
National Lexicography Units (9 units only) R 2, 000, 000
Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal R 2, 290, 000
English Dictionary Unit of South Africa R 690, 000
TOTAL R16, 081, 000

Strategic Plan: 2001-2005
(Still to be formulated by the new Board)

As indicated earlier, the new Board is still going to study the draft strategic plan which was formulated by the previous Board critically and then develop its own strategy.


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