Johannesburg aims for a four language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Feb 13 19:09:59 UTC 2005

[ This article was printed from - home of the Sunday
Times, South Africa. ]

City aims for a four language policy

Saturday February 12, 2005 15:41 - (SA)

Playing its part in developing a truly cosmopolitan and multi-lingual
culture in South Africa's economic powerhouse, the City of Johannesburg
has approved a new language policy, which it hopes to have implemented by
the middle of 2005. According to a report presented to the council, the
new language policy has several aims:  To identify and promote the equal
use of all official languages in the City, To facilitate equal access to
the City's services, knowledge and information, To ensure redress for the
previously marginalised official indigenous languages, and To promote good
language management for efficient public service administration to meet
residents' expectations and needs.

The new policy was drafted because official communication was mainly in
English and Afrikaans, although the country's Constitution says its
citizens have the right to communicate with the government in any of the
11 official languages. Put forward by the Office of the Speaker, the
report highlights the need to increase efforts to develop previously
marginalised indigenous languages to promote multi-lingualism. It blames
the dominance of English and Afrikaans in official communication on the
lack of a clearly defined language policy.

Diena Louwrens, head of council and committees, says the City has four
official languages - Afrikaans, English, isiZulu and Sesotho - and it has
been recommended that all official communication use those languages. The
draft policy was released in July 2004 and a call for public comment on it
was made in August 2004. Comment came from, among others, the Pan South
African Language Board, Communications of Organisational Development, the
National Deaf Service Institute of South Africa and the Middle-Village
Community Representative Council.

The Gauteng Department of Arts and Culture, Statistics South Africa, the
Gauteng Legislature, the National Parliament and the Department of Legal
Services all helped formulate the policy. The report says that in
implementing the policy, the City has to take into account the language
usage and preferences of its residents and bear in mind that it has a role
to play in advancing indigenous languages. It must also take care not to
discriminate unfairly against anyone on the basis of his or her language

City departments will have to budget for planning, training, development
and implementation of the new language policy, as well as for language
resources and language audits. A costing exercise by the National Treasury
and the Department of Arts and Culture in 2001 found that it was feasible
to set up a multi-lingual model and that it should be part of the various
departments' budgets.

Louwrens says: "If the departments do not have funds available, they will
be allowed to continue with the current language policy until they make
funds available in their next budget." A shift in the City's language
policy will mean setting up a language services unit, which will provide
translation and interpretation services for the City.

It will also have translation and interpretation services for all
residents so they can have equal access to municipal services,
irrespective of the language in which they communicate. "This would
include the installation of new systems and the presence of interpreters
within the city council chambers," adds Louwrens.

The City is working to have the unit up and running by the middle of 2005,
around the same time as the language policy will be implemented. The
policy also calls for a disability desk at a central customer care point
with a South African sign language interpreter, to help deaf residents.
Important municipal information must also be available in Braille format
for the visually impaired.

Johannesburg News Agency

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