Afrikaans under threat in languages bill

2012-02-02 10:45
Cape Town - The status of Afrikaans as an official language in state departments is at risk if the latest version of the South African languages bill is passed.

Even in provinces where it is the language mainly spoken by residents, such as the Western Cape and Northern Cape, national state departments will have to use three languages - of which two have to be previously disadvantaged African languages.

This will mean that the state department will have to choose between Afrikaans and English to use alongside the two disadvantaged African languages.

In the transitional constitution it was determined that no language may be in a weaker position than before, but that stipulation was not included in the Constitution of 1996.


The bill has not yet been finalised. It is still being debated by the parliamentary portfolio committee on arts and culture and the DA on Wednesday indicated it would obtain legal advice on the matter.

“I am convinced that it will not pass the constitutional test. No language may be excluded,” said DA MP Dr Annelie Lotriet.

She said this clause could see Afrikaans being left out of the language policy. “The language spoken by most residents in a province could be excluded if departments choose English as the default language. It is worrying.”

ANC committee chairperson, Thandi Sunduza, who has on several occasions expressed her irritation about state departments using mainly English when only 8% of the population were mother tongue English speakers, said: “So what do we now do with Afrikaans? Our aim is precisely to promote our other African languages.”

Only two provincial governments, the Western Cape and Limpopo, have their own language laws.

More than three languages possible

Director general of arts and culture, Sibusiso Xaba, said the bill specified that state departments could use more than the minimum of three languages. Afrikaans could therefore easily be included.

ATKV chairperson professor Danny Titus said: “You can’t just take away people’s rights. That would be foolish.”

The committee will meet again on February 15 to further debate the bill.

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