[lg policy] South Africa Languages Bill 2011 falls short

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 22 20:14:15 UTC 2011

 SA Languages Bill 2011 falls short - FW de Klerk Foundation
FW de Klerk Foundation
21 December 2011

Draft legislation makes no provision to promote indigenous languages


South Africa's multilingual nature is of such central importance to
our character as a nation that language rights were entrenched in the
founding principles of the Constitution. Nevertheless, government has
done little since 1994 to carry out its constitutional
responsibilities relating to language policy. In 2003 it tabled a
comprehensive South African Languages Bill that would have provided a
rational framework for language policy - but then inexplicably
withdrew the legislation.

Its lack of action prompted Cornelis Lourens, a private citizen, to
approach the courts to force government to adopt a proper language act
in accordance with its responsibilities in terms of S. 6(4) of the
Constitution. In March 2010, the North Gauteng High Court found that
the national government had, indeed, failed to carry out its
responsibilities and ordered the Minister of Arts and Culture to adopt
appropriate legislation within two years.

The result is the South African Languages Bill, 2011. However, a
cursory reading reveals that the government has done the absolute
minimum to comply with the court order and that the Bill still falls
far short of meeting the requirements in S.6 .

Last week the Foundation submitted comments to the Parliamentary
Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture. It observed that language
rights had been included in the founding principles because they are
indispensible to the achievement of other founding values in the
Constitution. Human dignity was closely linked to people's perception
of the worthiness and value of the language in which they perceived
the world and expressed their innermost views and opinions.

Equality could not be achieved if the language in which people
expressed themselves did not enjoy parity of esteem. The rights
assured by the Constitution would be seriously limited if government
did not communicate about them and provide the services on which they
depended, in languages that people could understand best.

In the Foundation's view the 2011 Bill did not meet the requirements
of S. 6 because, in particular, it made no provision to promote South
Africa's indigenous languages as required by S. 6(2) of the
Constitution; and because it made no provision for the adoption of
language policies by provinces and municipalities in terms of S. 6

The Foundation noted that whereas the first object of the 2003 Bill
was "to give effect to the letter and spirit of section 6 of the
Constitution", the first object of the 2011 Bill was simply "to
regulate and monitor the use of official languages by the national
government for government purposes." It further noted that the Bill
did not include a language policy but postponed this critically
important constitutional requirement for another 18 months. It also
appeared that the envisaged language policy would be adopted by way of
publication in the Gazette. The Foundation felt that such an important
policy should be adopted by legislation in the National Assembly,
rather than by government fiat.

It accordingly recommended that the 2011 Bill should be withdrawn in
its entirety and that the 2003 Bill should be reintroduced with a
number of additions. It supported the guiding principles of the 2003
Bill but felt that they should be strengthened by including
recognition of the rights, wherever practicable:

    to communicate with, and to be served by, national, provincial and
municipal government in the official language of choice;
    to use the official language of a person's choice in court proceedings; and
    the right of everyone to receive education in the official
language or languages of their choice in public educational

The Foundation suggested a language policy in terms of which each
government department would, at the national level, adopt two official
languages on the basis that one of the national languages would be
English. One third of departments would choose their second official
language from the isiXhosa, isiZulu, isiNdebele, siSwati group; one
third from the Sapedi, Sesotho, Setswana group; and one third from the
Afrikaans, Tshivenda, Xitsonga languages. Each national department
would, at its offices at the provincial level, use English and the
language most widely spoken in the relevant province.

Each provincial government would use English and the language - or
languages - most widely spoken in their province as the second, or if
they so wished third, official language. Each municipality would use
English and the language - or languages - most widely spoken in their

In all cases, appointments to, and promotions in, departments at all
levels of government would require proficiency in the relevant
official languages. Governments at all levels would also provide
incentives to officials to learn additional official languages.
In addition to the practical entrenchment of South Africa's ten
indigenous languages as languages of government, the Foundation
recommended the following steps to promote their further use and
development. The government should, in consultation with the relevant
universities, appoint a university, or universities, to promote the
use and development of each of South Africa's indigenous languages
with a view to their development as academic languages of tuition; the
training of teachers, journalists and language practitioners in the
languages concerned; and the development of literature, books and

The Foundation recommended that the monitoring function required in
S.6 (4) should be carried out independently by the Pan South African
Language Board (PANSALB), which already had such a function in terms
of its founding Act. PANSALB should be further strengthened by setting
up subsidiary language councils to monitor and promote the use and
development of each of South Africa's indigenous languages. The
Foundation also recommended the appointment of a Language Ombudsman
within PANSALB's framework.

Finally, the Foundation recommended that the relevant legislation
should be amended to ensure that everyone has the right to receive
education in the language or languages of their choice in public
educational institutions in accordance with S. 29 (2) of the
Constitution. It recommended that all provincial languages should be
taught in schools to the level of Grade 12 and that mother-tongue,
wherever practicable, should be used for the first six years of
education. The Foundation also expressed the need for indigenous
languages to enjoy special protection from the overwhelming impact of
English, if they were to survive as languages of education.

Statement issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation, December 21 2011


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