Language activist goes to court over failure to provide medicinal notes in isiZulu

Explain in isiZulu why I must take your medicine.

This is the challenge that could face the pharmaceutical industry in court soon.

Mongezi Bolofo said he had no alternative but to go to court after the Pan SA Languages Board decided not to investigate his complaint against giant medicine distributor Dis-Chem, which had failed to provide medicinal notes in isiZulu.

“If I had money I would litigate. If there is a legal practitioner who is willing to assist pro bono, I’d be happy.

But I will not rest before the official indigenous languages gain their status and my people can access services in their languages.”

Bolofo insists that relegating isiZulu represents marginalisation of his language and culture.

This was after the board, a public entity mandated to promote and create conditions for the development and use of languages, decided it would not investigate his complaint against the pharmaceutical industry for excluding isiZulu.

I will not rest before the official indigenous languages gain their status and my people can access services in their languages.
Mongezi Bolofo

The language activist from KwaZulu-Natal said he would not go down without a fight.

Bolofo approached the board in 2017 to lay a complaint against the SA Pharmacy Council, an entity that regulates pharmacists, pharmacy support personnel and pharmacy premises.

He claimed the council had asked him to lodge a complaint in English when he was questioning the exclusion of isiZulu in the information insert on medicine he had bought.

Bolofo claimed the complaint was against a Dis-Chem pharmacist at its Brooklyn store in Pretoria, who could not give him a medicine information insert written in isiZulu.

Bolofo wanted isiZulu to be included in the insert, which was written in English and Afrikaans.

Responding to questions about Bolofo’s complaint, which was lodged with the board on July 11 2017, Ntombi Huluhulu, spokesperson for the board, said its report on the Use of Official Languages Act, published last year, showed that “the public sector has a wide gap that still needs to be covered and, as such, the public sector remains the board’s immediate target”.

Huluhulu said the board had spoken to Bolofo to try to resolve the issue.

She said the board had limitations and was restricted legislatively, meaning the complaint could not be addressed adequately.

They first tried to force me to write my complaint in English which I refused ... They had no language unit and they were still using English and Afrikaans

Bolofo said the board’s response was “utter malice” because he had not filed a case against a private sector company but against the council.

He said the council was supposed to investigate and act against Dis-Chem.

He claimed the council was not complying with the Use of Official Languages Act.

“They first tried to force me to write my complaint in English which I refused ... They had no language unit and they were still using English and Afrikaans.

“So, for me, they were not fit to rule on the issue of language and they were discriminating against isiZulu.

“I brought in the board because the council is the government body.”

Council chief executive and registrar Amos Masango disputed Bolofo’s version.

He said Bolofo’s complaint was received in isiZulu and was translated by the council, in line with its language policy, to be served at the committee for preliminary investigations.

Masango confirmed that the council was aware of Bolofo’s complaint to the board.

He said the council had resolved that no further action be taken in relation to Bolofo’s complaint against the Dis-Chem pharmacist because his request to have the insert written in isiZulu was not the pharmacist’s remit.

“While the community pharmacy is required to make available patient information leaflets for each medicine dispensed, this information is usually made available by the supplier or manufacturer of the medicine.

The pharmacist said the pharmacy was not able to provide Bolofo with a patient information leaflet in isiZulu because the manufacturer of the medicine had not provided it,” Masango said.

He said Bolofo’s complaint was based on draft legislation.

“Bolofo had requested a patient information leaflet in a particular language, based on draft legislation and not current legislation.”

At the time of the incident, Masango said, the general regulations under the Medicines and Related Substances Act stated that the information leaflet had to be provided in English.

“The complainant, however, was aware of draft legislation that proposed the use of all official languages in patient information leaflets,” Masango said.

He said when the general regulations were eventually published in August 2017 for implementation, it had been legislated that the patient information leaflet should contain information in English and at least one other official language.

“As such, even under current legislation, it would be difficult to dictate which one of the 10 official languages, other than English, a manufacturer of medicines should use.

“However, we are confident that pharmacists explain medicine usage, efficacy, safety and dosage with each patient when they dispense medication.”

Read: Indigenous languages must be celebrated. This is why

Masango said the council committee acknowledged that, based on the communication received from Bolofo and the pharmacist, it appeared that the situation could have been better handled by both parties.

But Bolofo, whose activism was recognised by the board in 2016/2017, is intending to take the matter further.

City Press has seen minutes of meetings Bolofo had with officials from the arts and culture department and the board in which he raised his concerns that his case – the isiZulu matter – was not the only case that was not being resolved.

“According to the Pan SA Language Board Act the board answers to Parliament. I have been to the portfolio committee and received no joy. I have been to the arts and culture department and received no joy. I have notified the speaker and nothing has happened.”


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