Language politics

2016-05-24 14:37

The Constitution acknowledges, protects and promotes the use of all languages in South Africa. More importantly, it accords official status to seven indigenous African languages. The purpose of this it to elevate their use and lift them from centuries of diminution.

The constitution also enjoins government to adopt and use at least two of the official languages in official activities. Two months one of the apex courts, the Supreme Court of Appeal made a significant judgment (Lourens v Speaker of the National Assembly) on the question of multilingualism than left me not only depressed but also profoundly embarrassed.

Justice Lewis took judicial notice of Parliament’s notoriety of violating its own rules. In terms of Parliamentary Rules, Parliament is required to translate bills into at least one official other than the primary language in which the Bill is written.

Since 1996, this was not done !

Our Bills are discussed, enacted and promulgation exclusively in English. All other languages including the diminished indigenous languages are ignored. We have simply abandoned the struggle to affirm the languages of the indigenous population.

Recently a new legislation for promoting languages was passed and this too is being, largely, ignored by government. Every department is required to identify three official languages and figure out how these languages are going to be employed in officialdom.

Many language policies are adopted for malicious compliance. There is not any genuine effort to effect thoroughgoing linguistic transformation. The reluctance of government is a relfection of the dominant middle class’s acceptance of English as the language of power and privilege for the educated few. The ordinary masses have no place in officialdom but regarded as idle recipients of social delivery, deepening the distance of the working class and the contemporary middles class. The state must take a lead in promoting African languages and realise ‘parity of esteem’ as envisaged by the Constitution.  Our democratic government cannot be complicit in the perpetuation of cultural annihilation of African heritage.  Africa Rise !

Ishmael Motshwane Malale

UCT student

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