Lan­guage revo­lu­tion

CityPress - - News -

Judge Al­bie Sachs, who was part of an apartheid-era del­e­ga­tion to ne­go­ti­ate with the then Na­tional Party for of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of African lan­guages, was the key­note speaker at an event cel­e­brat­ing lan­guage month. Mmanaledi Mataboge-Mashetla was there “An old dog can learn new tricks.” So says re­tired Judge Al­bie Sachs, adding that he has learnt a lot from the coun­try’s lan­guage ac­tivists, who are putting up a wor­thy fight to se­cure the of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of their mother tongues.

On Tues­day, Sachs de­liv­ered the in­au­gu­ral lec­ture at the an­nual Pan SA Lan­guage Board (PanSALB) Mul­tilin­gual­ism Awards, mark­ing the end of its cel­e­bra­tion of 28 days of lan­guage ac­tivism. The event took place at Cape Town’s In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre.

Sachs was one of the ac­tivists who took part in talks to pro­mote, pro­tect and pre­serve mul­tilin­gual­ism in the coun­try and en­sure that its cit­i­zens en­joy speak­ing our 11 of­fi­cial lan­guages.

He told City Press that he was pleased to learn that a Con­sti­tu­tional Re­view Com­mit­tee had agreed to make South African sign lan­guage an of­fi­cial lan­guage.

“The state has the duty to take prac­ti­cal mea­sures to strengthen the lan­guages. Mak­ing sign lan­guage of­fi­cial will be a ma­jor break­through,” he said.

In 1993, to­gether with Speaker of Par­lia­ment Baleka Mbete, Sachs rep­re­sented the ANC in talks with the then Na­tional Party to ne­go­ti­ate the recog­ni­tion of lan­guages that had been side­lined dur­ing apartheid.

Dur­ing his in­au­gu­ral lec­ture, Sachs had men­tioned that he did not think a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment was an ideal way to get sign lan­guage recog­nised as the coun­try’s 12th of­fi­cial lan­guage. An emo­tional de­fence from deaf peo­ple and sign lan­guage ac­tivists at­tend­ing the lec­ture en­sued.

In a later in­ter­view, how­ever, Sachs elab­o­rated fur­ther on his views on sign lan­guage and other groups seek­ing of­fi­cial sta­tus. “An old dog can learn new tricks. It was in­ter­est­ing for me to learn from one of the sign lan­guage speak­ers that sign lan­guage is not a dis­abil­ity. It is not just signs but a lan­guage. It is a cul­ture and it has a huge amount of hu­man­ity.

“There is a par­tic­u­lar South African sign lan­guage that is dif­fer­ent from oth­ers else­where. That was an ed­uca­tive mo­ment for me and I am firmly be­hind the recog­ni­tion of sign lan­guage.”

At the Tues­day lec­ture, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Khoi, San and Nama lan­guages also made an im­pas­sioned plea for their mother tongues to be ac­corded of­fi­cial sta­tus.

“We have been ex­cluded from the Con­sti­tu­tion as the Abo­rig­i­nal Khoisan. This Con­sti­tu­tion must change,” said an emo­tional Khoisan leader and ac­tivist, to loud ap­plause.

Sachs said South Africa had ac­com­plished “a lot” when it came to the use of of­fi­cial lan­guages.

“We have done a lot. It is in­ter­est­ing that when peo­ple get ex­cited in Par­lia­ment they speak in all lan­guages. At one stage, it was very rare to hear an African lan­guage in Par­lia­ment.” But the courts are gen­er­ally still lag­ging be­hind. “We have had dis­cus­sions about lan­guages of the court. In the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, we made al­lowance for trans­la­tions. We said ev­ery­one had the right to bring a case to the court in the lan­guage of their choice. But peo­ple are be­ing prac­ti­cal and still use English. It is still a chal­lenge for the lower courts.”

He chal­lenged PanSALB, say­ing it had been given con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers to en­sure that lan­guages were treated fairly, but was “be­ing too po­lite” when do­ing its job.

In his clos­ing re­marks, PanSALB chief ex­ec­u­tive Rak­wena Mpho Monareng as­sured Sachs that he was work­ing hard to change the board for the bet­ter.

“To­day is the day that the phoenix is try­ing to get out of its ashes and dust. We are try­ing to re­brand our­selves,” he said. Visit city­press.co.za to see a full gallery of im­ages

from the PanSALB Mul­tilin­gual­ism Awards

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