Bill to promote multilingualism - minister

2012-01-25 20:44
Cape Town - The draft SA languages bill is intended to promote multilingualism, Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said on Wednesday.

Speaking in the arts and culture portfolio committee, he emphasised the importance of multilingualism.

"Language is in chapter one section six of the Constitution, which shows its importance," he said.

Those who wrote the Constitution envisaged two primary pieces of legislation. One to establish the Pan SA Language Board (Pansalb) to address multilingualism in society, and another on the use of official languages in the provision of government services.

"Official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably. This is what the bill hopes to achieve."

Addressing concerns about various provisions in the draft bill, Mashatile agreed to tighten certain provisions in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution.

On the constitutional requirement that "government must use at least two official languages", he said that indigenous African languages should be among those used as official languages, not just English and Afrikaans.

This could mean that, as the department refined the bill, consideration could be given for a minimum of three languages to be used for government communication and access to information and services.

This would apply to national government departments, national public enterprises, and entities. The bill would also specify and promote the use of sign language, Mashatile said.

In a statement later, Pansalb board chairperson Sihawukele Ngubane, said the bill was unlikely to give effect to the government's constitutional obligation.

Pansalb wanted the bill to also compel departments to implement a language policy that included a progressive plan to deliver services to the public in at least one indigenous language.

Among other things, municipalities should also use a specific official language if 20% of the people it served used that language.

"This implies acceptance of the regional realities of language usage."

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