SA risks losing indigenous languages

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

South Africa runs the risk of losing its indigenous languages, says Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) Project Manager and head of Gauteng office, Dr Sally Maepa.

This has been attributed to the lack of the implementation of the Use of Official Languages Act 12 of 2012 (UOLA) by government department as well as citizens.

“We need to ensure that our languages are promoted, developed and equally used so we must ensure that the departments are complying,” Maepa said.

PanSALB on Tuesday released a Comprehensive Report on the Use of Official Languages Act 12 of 2012, during a media briefing that was held in Tshwane.

According to Maepa, almost all departments perceived UOLA and the multilingual language policy implementation as sheer provision of translation and interpreting services, rather than creating equitable space for the official language to grow and create value.

“Most departments admitted to not having done anything about implementing UOLA. There appeared no inclination to allocate sufficient human and financial resources towards multilingual language policy development and implementation,” she said.

Maepa said departments unequivocally displayed a strong preference to default to English on the assumption that it is easier, logical and common scenically the only language inherently able compared to others.

She said there is a lack of understanding of why the promotion of all 11 official languages and status elevation of previously marginalised official languages are important.


“The government departments should construct acceptable multilingual language policy with time-framed implementation plan.

“Both the language policy and its implementation plan should be strategically biased towards the development and creation of business space for the indigenous South African official languages,” Maepa said.

She said the departments should in tandem make solid provision for sufficient resources to enable language policy implementation.

“They should accord top priority to fully functioning language units with cogent executive standing within the departmental executive/management committee.

“The language units should be a multilingual language policy implementation structure of the departments and shall therefore not be limited to translation, editing, proofreading and interpreting. They are meant to actively entrench multilingualism within the context of each department’s business, to enhance service delivery,” Maepa said.

She said the department should appoint professional and expert language practitioners well entrenched in multilingualism, language policy, language politics and related studies.

“Each government department should be dutifully bound to develop its own specialized multilingual terminology lists and get them verified and authenticated accordingly,” Maepa said.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa recognises the historically diminished use and status of nine marginalised South African indigenous official languages.

There is an obligation on the state to take practical and positive measures to elevate the status, and advance the use of, these languages

These languages include Sesotho sa Leboa - Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

UOLA in essence fosters multilingualism within working spaces and beyond, in the spirit of social cohesion and nation building

In pursuance of its mandate, in 2017 the PanSALB, invited all national government departments as anchors of service delivery to all South African communities to give account of their observance of the constitutional language requirement and chiefly the prescripts of UOLA since its inception in 2013.

During the process, it was established that most National Department and Entities do not comply with the act; take the execution of the PanSALB language mandate seriously and they ignore its mandatory responsibility to monitor their compliance of the Use of Official Language Act

Maepa said 29% (12 out of 42) departments have complied with the submission of the monitoring tool.

Figures for departments that reviewed their languages policies since the public hearing in 2017 stood at 10% (4 out of 42).

Figures for departments that intend to review their language policies but no indication as to when were 10% (4 out of 42).

Figures for non-complying departments on the monitoring tool stood at 71% (30 out of 42). –