South Africa: Struggling Language Board Asks Parliament for Help

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Mar 14 13:09:17 UTC 2007

Struggling Language Board Asks Parliament for Help

BuaNews (Tshwane)  NEWS March 13, 2007 Posted to the web March 13, 2007

By Shaun Benton Cape Town

The Pan South African Language Board has asked for Parliament's
intervention to help it promote the use and image of African languages, as
it outlined a number of challenges it is experiencing. A number of
officials from PanSALB, which is accountable to Parliament, told the
Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture Tuesday that low staff morale,
high staff turnover and other problems are affecting its ability to
adequately discharge its mandate. Some projects have been abandoned due to
high staff turnover, said PanSALB's newly appointed chief executive
officer, Ntombenhle Nkosi.

The last chief financial officer at PanSALB - which received a qualified
audit report last year - resigned after only one month in the job, MPs
heard. Members of the Portfolio Committee were dismayed after being asked
for more funding, despite the qualified audit report, other problems
already highlighted and what PanSALB admitted was conflict between the
board members and the chief executive officer. MPs said that the
organisation, established as a statutory body in terms of Section 6 of the
founding provisions of the Constitution, needed to get its house in order
and demonstrate that it can use the funds allocated to it correctly.

Addressing the request for Parliament to make greater use of indigenous
languages, MPs also complained about the often poor quality of translation
services in the House, which made many of them inclined to use English. Ms
Nkosi said PanSALB needed more money to train high quality translators,
which would also make an impact on the proceedings of Parliament. MPs also
heard that the statutory body was in competition for funds with the
National Language Service - a chief directorate of the Department of Arts
and Culture - which is also has a Constitutional obligation to promote
multilingualism and managing language diversity. PanSALB asked the
Portfolio Committee to intervene in this matter, with a PanSALB official
saying the organisation could not "deal with this [competition with the
National Language Service for financial resources from National Treasury]"
on its own.

MPs noted that PanSALB had made progress in its task of producing
dictionaries in, and for, all of South Africa's indigenous languages.
However, Ms Nkosi said the funds were not evenly split for all languages,
as Afrikaans received proportionally more than others and that this needed
to be rectified. She also pointed out that research needed to be conducted
into the effect that School Governing Bodies have on the use of African
languages, suggesting that they often tend to dominate language policy at
the expense of traditional African languages. Nonetheless, PanSALB
registered some achievements over the past few years in the production of
dictionaries through its National Lexicography Units, and has established
language committees in each province to facilitate this work.

MPs also heard that other interventions needed to be made, such as
offering incentives to the private sector to promote the value and use of
indigenous languages. The organization said otherwise, it would be
unlikely to see private sector bodies undertaking this willingly.
Professor Henry Thipa, the chairman of PanSALB, pointed out that
globalisation threw up certain challenges, particularly in the dominance
of English worldwide. However, research conducted for PanSALB by the
National Research Foundation in 2000 had found that the majority of South
Africans using traditional languages wished to make greater use of their
home languages.


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