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