Proposal for Language Policy for Parliament

Joint Rules

10 March 1998
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Meeting report



10 March 1998


Present: Deputy Speaker of the NA Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile (NA Co-Chair, ANC), Permanent Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP Bulelani Ngcuka (NCOP Co-Chair, ANC), Chairperson of the NCOP Patrick Lekota (ANC), 15 ANC members of parliament (including the NA Chief Whip and the NA Deputy Chief Whip), 14 members of parliament of the opposition parties and 12 clerks and advisors.

The main item on the agenda was the Proposal for Language Policy for Parliament. The proposal by the Presiding Officers (including a budget) to use a language of record, English, plus one other official language on a rotational, monthly basis.

The Freedom Front has submitted a position paper proposing to maintain the status quo. The Democratic Party has drafted an alternative proposal, including an alternative budget: English, Afrikaans, Zulu and one other language should be the official languages in parliament. Additionally, one of the other languages should be used on a monthly rotational basis. This will cost 7 million Rand per year to be paid for by privatising the parliamentary catering service which now costs 10 million Rand per year. The National Party has written a position paper stating that the implementation of the proposal of the Presiding Officers is unconstitutional and that the Pan South African Language Board and other interested parties should first be consulted. The IFP, the ACDP and the ANC did not submit alternative proposals. There were no representatives of the PAC present at the meeting so their position was not clear.

After these proposals and position papers were announced, there was a heated debate about the matter. The NP and FF warned that there would be a lot of anger and friction around the country if English were to be upgraded and Afrikaans downgraded in this way. These parties also claimed that the proposal was just another ANC submission instead of a proposal from the Presiding Officers. This fuelled emotions further. The ANC responded by saying that there is no point in making threats but that it is a sensitive issue. The ANC regarded the proposal by the Presiding Officers as an acceptable first step, given the current financial and other constraints. Maintaining the status quo, however, would be completely unacceptable.

At some point during this debate in which several members spoke in their own language Lekota intervened by calling upon the meeting to approach this issue with 'accommodation': why not ask the question how can we accommodate the hurt of many years? There is, according to Lekota, only one way to do this, which will mean that Afrikaans loses its privileged status. And to the NP and FF, Lekota then said: Why not say my language can step back in favour of your language? Lekota ended his intervention by saying that in the long term English must also lose its privileged status: the use of English as proposed in this policy is still a sacrifice for the other languages. On the other hand, communication beyond the SA borders is a reason for being practical about the issue. Finally, Lekota called upon the members to take a decision that would enable them to move forward.

With regard to procedure, there seemed to be some confusion on the role of the parliamentary staff. It was argued that parties could very well seek the assistance of the staff in drafting proposals, including a budget, but that one would have to prevent a situation in which parliamentary staff would be drafting party proposals and getting involved in party political debates.

Towards the end of the debate, the deputy Speaker proposed to let the various proposals and papers be distributed, have a 15 minute break for reading and discussion within the parties and then decide on the proposals. After the break, however, there was a proposal made by the NA Deputy Chief Whip to postpone a final decision for two weeks. Subsequently, it was agreed that the parties would have one week to submit their final proposals and another week to discuss them. The issue of the Language Policy for Parliament will then be finalized during the next meeting of the Joint Rules Committee, to be held on Wednesday 25 March, 10.00 hours. It was further decided that during these two weeks the Presiding Officers would approach the Pan South African Language Board to ask their opinion on the matter.

Some minor items on the agenda that were also discussed during this meeting were:

- the clean air policy in parliament; such a policy was agreed upon during the meeting and will immediately be implemented

- the symbols of parliament; on the symbols of parliament a document has been submitted to the Internal Arrangements Committee; the IAC will report to the Joint Rules Committee

- a Joint Committee on the Funding of Political Parties; such a committee will have to be established; the Joint Subcommittee on Review of Rules will report to the Joint Rules Committee

- the matter of 'mixed bills': Parliament apparently asked the Constitutional Court to advise on the proposed new rules regarding 'mixed bills' and received a negative answer. In a letter, read out by the Presiding Officer, the Constitutional Court stated it could only rule on actual provisions in the Rules not on any proposed rules and advised Parliament to seek the legal advise of the Senior Council. The committee thus decided.

- the appointment of chairpersons to three subcommittees of the Joint Rules Committee. The meeting appointed de Lange (NA, ANC) and Moosa (NCOP, ANC) as chairpersons of the Joint Subcommittee on Review of Rules; Groenewald (NCOP, FF) was also nominated for this position but the nomination was not seconded. The meeting subsequently appointed Hogan (NA, ANC) and Mashwana (NCOP, ANC) as chairpersons of the Joint Subcommittee on Parliamentary Budget; Selfe (NCOP, DP) was also nominated for the post but declined. Finally, Montsitsi (NA, ANC) and Selfe (NCOP, DP) were appointed as chairpersons of the Joint Subcommittee on Support for Members. Please note that each of these subcommittees has two chairpersons, one from the NA and one from the NCOP

- a report of the Joint Rules Committee to the House; the Joint Rules Committee has to report to the House once per term, therefore, it was noted that such a report should either be on the agenda of the next meeting of the Joint Rules Committee or the committee will have to give a mandate to the Presiding Officers to make a report and finalize it with the Chief Whip's office; the latter was agreed

- the report on the budget: this agenda item was postponed until the next meeting on Wednesday 25 March, much to the concern of the Deputy Chief Whip (NA) who stated that this would not look very good for the Joint Rules Committee since the following day was Budget Day


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