Many lan­guages, one voice of re­spect

The no­tion that SA should have two of­fi­cial lan­guages and down­grade the sta­tus of the rest smacks of apartheid-era think­ing, write and

CityPress - - Voices -

ANC spokesper­son David Ma­sondo raises some in­ter­est­ing points around lan­guage in “Let’s speak as a na­tion united” (City Press, Jan­uary 31 2016). How­ever, the Con­sti­tu­tion guides us, and is premised on dig­nity, equal­ity and free­dom. Sec­tion 6 is not a Utopian pro­vi­sion that lacks practicality. It specif­i­cally men­tions that prac­ti­cal and pos­i­tive mea­sures are to be taken in en­sur­ing 11 of­fi­cial lan­guages are used equally.

Sec­tion 9(4) pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion on a num­ber of grounds, in­clud­ing lan­guage. If we ap­ply the pro­posal put for­ward by Ma­sondo of hav­ing two of­fi­cial lan­guages, the re­main­der be­ing negated to “na­tional lan­guages”, it would give rise to four is­sues.

Firstly, dis­crim­i­na­tion on the grounds of lan­guage in terms of sec­tion 9. Se­condly, it would re­sult in the cre­ation of a hege­monic struc­ture, re­sult­ing in the marginal­i­sa­tion of the “na­tional lan­guages”. Thirdly, speak­ers of the na­tional lan­guages would be ex­cluded from the main­frame sec­tors of busi­ness, pol­i­tics and ac­cess to govern­ment, in­clud­ing pro­vin­cial and lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, health­care fa­cil­i­ties and the le­gal sys­tem.

Let us take the Use of Of­fi­cial Lan­guages Act 12 of 2012. This statute aims at im­ple­ment­ing sec­tion 6 within govern­ment struc­tures. This en­sures speak­ers of all of­fi­cial lan­guages are able to ac­cess govern­ment of­fices and com­plete forms in their lan­guage. If only two of­fi­cial lan­guages are adopted for the pur­poses of ac­cess­ing ba­sic ser­vices, this will dis­crim­i­nate against speak­ers of the other lan­guages. Th­ese rights are in essence what our democ­racy is grounded upon.

The adop­tion of two of­fi­cial lan­guages would have fur­ther im­pli­ca­tions on our sec­tion 29(2) right, con­fer­ring the right to re­ceive education in an of­fi­cial lan­guage or lan­guage of choice. Do we want to dis­ad­van­tage our chil­dren fur­ther on the ba­sis of lan­guage? The fact that the In­cre­men­tal In­tro­duc­tion of African Lan­guages Pol­icy in­tro­duces African lan­guages within schools il­lus­trates the im­por­tance not only of com­ply­ing with sec­tion 6 but en­sur­ing our chil­dren are able to reach their full po­ten­tial.

Za­keera Docrat

Rus­sell H Kaschula

The pro­posal of hav­ing two of­fi­cial lan­guages would have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the le­gal sys­tem, given the fact that sec­tion 35(3)(k) con­fers a right to be tried in a lan­guage the ac­cused un­der­stands or, if im­prac­ti­cal, for pro­ceed­ings to be in­ter­preted. We would, in essence, be tam­per­ing with the right to a fair trial, given the pos­si­ble prej­u­dice due to a lan­guage re­stric­tion.

Ma­sondo high­lights the in­ter­con­nec­tion be­tween lan­guage and cul­ture, which in fact has a deeper con­nec­tion, as il­lus­trated in sec­tions 30 and 31 of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Sec­tion 30 pro­vides that ev­ery per­son has the right to use the lan­guage of his or her choice and to par­tic­i­pate in the cul­ture of his or her choice, strength­ened by sec­tion 31 per­tain­ing to the for­ma­tion of lin­guis­tic, cul­tural and religious com­mu­ni­ties. In ap­ply­ing the pro­posal of two of­fi­cial lan­guages, how would we give ef­fec­tive mean­ing to the re­al­i­sa­tion of the right in sec­tion 30?

The South African bank­ing sec­tor con­tin­ues in its at­tempt to en­sure in­clu­siv­ity on the grounds of lan­guage. Ned­bank’s on­line bank­ing sys­tem pro­vides ac­cess to an on­line con­sul­tant in any of the of­fi­cial lan­guages. This is a pro­found new de­vel­op­ment.

Re­gard­ing pos­si­ble har­mon­i­sa­tion of our lan­guages, the Con­sti­tu­tion does not recog­nise this. This de­bate be­gan in the 1960s within the ANC and was later raised by the now late mul­tilin­gual rights ac­tivist Neville Alexan­der in the 1980s and 1990s, never gain­ing any real trac­tion. What are, in essence, di­alects in South Africa have be­come recog­nised of­fi­cial lan­guages within the Con­sti­tu­tion and among cit­i­zens. There is a political and ed­u­ca­tional back­ground to this that can­not be negated.

There is noth­ing sim­ple about adopt­ing two of­fi­cial lan­guages and the rest be­ing termed na­tional lan­guages. It is in fact com­plex in ev­ery sense; we have seen that the con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions are clear and pre­cise. The dif­fer­ence be­tween an of­fi­cial lan­guage and a na­tional lan­guage is yet to be con­sti­tu­tion­ally de­ter­mined. It can be said that the drafters fo­cused on equal­ity and re­vers­ing the ef­fects of apartheid.

Na­tion-build­ing and so­cial co­he­sion can only be­gin when we as a col­lec­tive ac­knowl­edge and cel­e­brate our lin­guis­tic rich­ness, where lan­guage was once used as a tool to di­vide, now it unites us. If we are to achieve unity based on adopt­ing two of­fi­cial lan­guages and negat­ing the rest to na­tional lan­guages, we are in fact adopt­ing apartheid ideals, an in­jus­tice we can­not jus­tify on the grounds of ne­ces­sity and suf­fi­ciency.

Kaschula is the Na­tional Re­search Foun­da­tion’s SA Re­search Chairs Ini­tia­tive chair in the in­tel­lec­tu­al­i­sa­tion of African lan­guages, mul­ti­lin­gual­ism and education, and chair­per­son of the Rhodes Univer­sity lan­guage com­mit­tee Docrat is the stu­dent nom­i­nee on the Rhodes

Univer­sity lan­guage com­mit­tee

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