‘Organs of state fail to use all official languages’

The Cultural, Linguistic and Religious Rights (CRL) Commission has recommended that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should criminalise government departments and entities it has found wanting in implementing the equitable use of all official languages.

The commission made the recommendations in “The Use of Official Languages by Organs of State” report released on Tuesday following investigative hearings held in November 21 last year to establish the use of all official languages by government departments and entities.

The commission heard submissions by government departments and entities, including the South African Police Service and the national departments of justice, health, basic and higher education, and sports, arts and culture. A total of 16 departments and entities were selected.

It also found that government departments and state entities are in the early stages of implementing sections of the constitution that relate to language, and other relevant legislation flowing from it, that is, the Use of Official Languages Act No12 of 2012 and Language Policy.

“Those that have already started the implementation have also done the bare minimum,” said the report.

NPA spokesperson advocate Mthunzi Mhaga said the NPA did not have the mandate or authority to legislate. “That function resides with the department of justice and constitutional development,” he said.

Spokesperson for the ministry of justice and correctional services Chrispin Phiri said: “We will endeavour to engage the CRL Rights Commission on their recommendation.” The report also notes that section 35(k) of the constitution stipulates that the rights that are required for a fair trial include that the accused must be tried in a language that he/she understands.

In its findings, the commission established that while courts try to use official languages, they encounter problems as many African languages still need to develop standardised legal jargon. “There is a need for work to be done into the standardisation of certain definitions and terminologies,” the report said, recommending that the Pan South African Language Board should assist with the standardisation and development of all official languages into legalese.

In its presentation, the department of education highlighted the pilot studies initiated in 2012 in Eastern Cape, where some schools are using isiXhosa and Setswana as languages of teaching and learning beyond grade 3.

Eastern Cape education spokesperson Mali Mtima said the Mother Tongue Based Bilingual Education (MTBBE) programme is piloted at 1 929 primary schools in the province.

“The total number of primary school pupils involved in the programme is 265 147,” he said.

“High schools were supposed to start in 2021 but because of Covid they couldn’t.”

He said the subjects that formed part of the MTBBE programme were mathematics, physical science, life sciences, agricultural science, history and accounting.

National Association of Student Governing Bodies secretary general Matakanye Mata-kanya said  communities needed to be conscientised about the role of mother tongue education in kids’ cognitive development.

The commission also recommends that the national department of sports, arts and culture fast-track the establishment of the South African Language Practitioners Council to regulate language practitioners and promote and protect the language practice in the country.

Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Zizi Kodwa said the public notice for the nomination of the board members for the council had been issued.

“Interviews of potential board members of the council have already been done. The department is now processing recommendations to the minister for appointment,” he said.

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