Adding bite to bark

It is In­ter­na­tional Mother Lan­guage Day on Tues­day and PanSALB has been call­ing the state to ac­count for its mother tongue poli­cies. It’s been a tough road, writes Mmanaledi Mataboge-Mashetla

CityPress - - Voices -

The Pan South African Lan­guage Board (PanSALB) will have to work much harder to get the pri­or­ity at­ten­tion of many gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. And the board is plan­ning to do just that.

PanSALB will take le­gal ac­tion against gov­ern­ment de­part­ments that ei­ther turned down the board’s in­vi­ta­tion to ac­count for their use of African lan­guages or ig­nored the com­mu­niqué from the Con­sti­tu­tion­ally cre­ated in­sti­tu­tion.

Some sim­ply did not show up when they were sup­posed to.

“We can take them to court... We have dis­cussed with our le­gal team to start draft­ing let­ters no­ti­fy­ing them about the steps we in­tend tak­ing,” said PanSALB chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Dr Rak­wena Mpho Monareng.

Sev­eral gov­ern­ment de­part­ments chose other en­gage­ments in­stead of at­tend­ing pub­lic hear­ings meant to hold them ac­count­able for lan­guage poli­cies and ad­her­ing to the Con­sti­tu­tion’s re­quire­ment to pro­mote mul­ti­lin­gual­ism in their work.

The con­tin­u­ing pub­lic hear­ings have been or­gan­ised by PanSALB as part of its lan­guage ac­tivism month events held at the CSIR In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre in Pre­to­ria.

Tough talk on lan­guage pol­icy

PanSALB is man­dated to pro­mote mul­ti­lin­gual­ism and lan­guage rights, as well as to in­ves­ti­gate rights vi­o­la­tions. The in­sti­tu­tion has of­ten been la­belled a “tooth­less watch­dog” whose pow­ers are noth­ing but ink on pa­per. This is about to come to an end, said the tough-talk­ing Monareng this week.

“The mo­ment we take some­one to task, that’s when they will start see­ing the se­ri­ous­ness of this. The thing is, they think this is the old PanSALB that al­lowed them to get away with a lot.”

At the be­gin­ning of the hear­ings, 12 out of 30 gov­ern­ment de­part­ments had not con­firmed their par­tic­i­pa­tion, with sev­eral out of these mak­ing it clear to PanSALB that they would not show up.

The depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion is hav­ing “a hec­tic sched­ule” that in­volves vis­it­ing schools in dif­fer­ent prov­inces, sort­ing out prob­lems re­lated to the place­ment of learn­ers in schools and ap­pear­ing be­fore Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee, said its spokesper­son, Eli­jah Mh­langa.

“I don’t think it’s any­thing else,” Mh­langa said. “We, of all de­part­ments, have a lot to say about lan­guages. We would be will­ing to take up the in­vi­ta­tion to share the progress that we have made in terms of im­ple­ment­ing the use of African lan­guages,” he said.

He added that the depart­ment was “not re­fus­ing” to ap­pear be­fore PanSALB, but would have liked to “ne­go­ti­ate an al­ter­na­tive date”.

And then there’s Na­tional Trea­sury, which said the tim­ing was just too wrong as the depart­ment is pre­par­ing for Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han’s an­nual bud­get speech. The date that PanSALB al­lo­cated the depart­ment “is the date we are on print­ing dead­line. If we miss the print­ing dead­line there won’t be a bud­get,” said Na­tional Trea­sury spokesper­son Yolisa Tyantsi.

“In the last week to­wards the bud­get, we don’t do any ex­ter­nal en­gage­ments. The only thing that can take the min­is­ter out of the of­fice is if the pres­i­dent wants to see him or if it’s some­thing re­lated to the bud­get,” she said.

Tyantsi added that Na­tional Trea­sury does not un­der­mine PanSALB and it is proving that by de­cid­ing to rather not hon­our this par­tic­u­lar in­vi­ta­tion in­stead of send­ing any other of­fi­cial who may be un­able to ac­count on the depart­ment’s be­half.

“The fact that we value the PanSALB is the rea­son we are not send­ing a ju­nior of­fi­cial. To show that we are se­ri­ous about this mul­ti­lin­gual­ism re­quire­ment, we have trans­lated rat­ing agen­cies’ re­ports into African lan­guages and we are also trans­lat­ing the Peo­ple’s Guide to the bud­get into these lan­guages. We do recog­nise that we’ve got a pol­icy to re­spect,” she said.

Depart­ment re­sponses speak vol­umes

While some gov­ern­ment de­part­ments sent an apol­ogy to PanSALB a few days be­fore their sched­uled ap­pear­ance, oth­ers sim­ply did not bother re­spond­ing to the board’s emails and calls.

“Some gave silly rea­sons for not com­ing,” said CEO Monareng. For those that made time, the board ex­pressed ap­pre­ci­a­tion for their ef­forts, but were grieved by the fact that “the con­tent is very poor. They sent very ju­nior peo­ple who can­not ex­plain things; they can­not ac­count for the de­part­ments.”

In ad­di­tion to this, sev­eral gov­ern­ment de­part­ments “don’t have their own lan­guage poli­cies. They took the pol­icy that they got from the depart­ment of arts and cul­ture and just changed names. Where it says the arts and cul­ture they put their own depart­ment’s name,” said Monareng.

While spokesper­son for the depart­ment of plan­ning, mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion Tshe­go­fatso Mo­dubu claimed that they did not re­ceive a PanSALB in­vi­ta­tion, some, such as the State Se­cu­rity Agency, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and co­op­er­a­tion, and so­cial de­vel­op­ment, did not re­spond to City Press’ en­quiry.

At the time of go­ing to print, other de­part­ments that had not con­firmed their par­tic­i­pa­tion, such as small busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, home af­fairs and pub­lic ser­vice and ad­min­is­tra­tion, had as­sured PanSALB that they would send rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

TALK TO US: Do you agree that PanSALB must match its bark with a bite to get gov­ern­ment de­part­ments to fol­low the Con­sti­tu­tion?

SMS 35697 with your name, home lan­guage, home town and a com­ment. SMSes cost R1.50

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

SPEAK UP Left to Right: Dr Le­pono Boshego, Pro­fes­sor Edith Kirk, Dr Rak­wena Monareng and Dr Wil­liam Langeveldt

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