[lg policy] South Africa: Lawyer wins language battle

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 17 13:26:48 UTC 2010

Lawyer wins language battle
2010-03-16 22:09

Pretoria - A Brits attorney has won the first round of his battle to
force the government to honour its constitutional duty towards South
Africa's official languages. Judge Ben du Plessis on Tuesday ruled in
the North Gauteng High Court that the government had not, in terms of
the constitution, regulated and monitored the use of official
He instructed Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana, in her capacity
as the responsible Cabinet member, to comply with the stated
obligation within two years or to ensure that there was the necessary
compliance. The court also ordered the minister to pay the legal costs
of the applicant, Brits attorney Cerneels Lourens.

2007 standstill

Du Plessis said the government started out honouring its obligation
regarding language in terms of the Constitution, but that the process
came to a standstill in 2007."The process must be resumed, but it is
not for this court to be prescriptive about how it should be done
before the national government had not honoured its obligation," he
This meant the court could not order the government to adopt a
language policy, launch a language audit of all state departments or
publish national legislation in all 11 official languages.

Delivering his judgment in Afrikaans, Du Plessis said an English
judgment would be insensitive towards Lourens in light of the rights
he was trying to protect. Du Plessis said the country had 11 official
languages, which meant that officials in the government could be
addressed in any of those languages.  "Afrikaans is one of the
official languages. My decision to give the judgment in Afrikaans is
also motivated by evidence before court that the respondents, in so
far as they indeed don't understand Afrikaans, have sufficient
translation services," he said.

Victory for SA languages

Lourens said he felt good and relieved at the ruling, which he
believed was so widely put that it covered everything he had asked
for. The trade union Solidarity said it regarded the ruling as "the
biggest victory for South Africa's languages since 1994". Solidarity
earlier this month agreed to throw its weight behind the case by
agreeing to cover the legal costs of senior advocates. Alana Bailey of
AfriForum, which also supported the application, said it would
continue putting pressure on the government to comply with its
constitutional obligation and would keep on fighting "small battles"
to keep the issue of languages on the agenda.


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