Speech by Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi on the occasion of implementation of the use of Official Languages Act, 2012 (Act No. 12 of 2012), Workshop, Arcadia

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27 Feb 2015

Programme Director,

Government Officials,

Ladies and gentlemen

Last week, I joined the students and staff from the School of Languages and Communication Studies at the University of Limpopo, Turfloop, in celebrating the International Mother Language Day under the theme: “Inclusion in and through education: Language Counts”.

I am equally very pleased to be associated with this august occasion of the workshop on the implementation of the ‘Use of Official Languages Act’, which is a great milestone in our democracy.

The founding father of our nation, President Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

These words are very powerful and very profound! Language is emotive.  

Language is very important and we all communicate to be understood. Language is a vehicle of culture and through a language one can learn the values of the people who speak it. You will know what they hold dear and important!

Your experience can be expressed best in your home language or the language you love.

It is the reason why educators stress the value of home language in a learner’s initial years at school.

If you deny people their language, you are denying their very existence!

It is the most important cultural expression of a people! It is with this in mind and what we had gone through pre – 1994 that South Africa has felt so keenly about our indigenous languages. All African languages remained invisible in South Africa, pre-1994 when all official documents were in either Afrikaans or English. Education was offered in these two languages too.

One of the important triggers of the 1976 Soweto Uprising was the imposition of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. The brave youth rose against the imposition of the oppressors’ language!

In planning for a democratic South Africa, activists from within South Africa and those in exile agreed in Harare that the country should adopt 11 official languages. At the advent of the democratic dispensation, South Africa was the first country in the world to legislate eleven official languages to make democracy more inclusive in catering for our diverse cultures.

Chapter 1 of our Constitution under Founding Provisions clearly states the eleven official languages which need to be promoted and respected. It further stipulates that there are further languages that are spoken in South Africa which need to be respected.

During the liberation struggle, language was used as a weapon in terms of our slogans and our songs. Activists rallied support amongst communities in this manner. This was also the case with workers who worked with heavy labour, they developed rhythmic slogans with revolutionary enthusiasm thus popularising the struggle.

When communities have been denied the right to use their languages for several decades, it becomes a denial of a people’s culture, values and wisdom. A denial of their voice and access to information! It makes them invisible.

The power associated with language is well illustrated by both Bell Hooks and Frantz Fanon. “A notable characteristic of the dominated, the disempowered and dispossessed is voiceless-ness. The disempowered lose their voices and their languages, as a result of years of not being listened to, heard, or understood, and years of repression”.

Fanon (1967), articulating the power of language, states: “To speak means to be in a position to use a certain morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilisation.”

Being silenced or voiceless, therefore, means the culture associated with those without a voice is not practiced, and therefore suppressed, and ultimately extinguished which is what has happened to many cultures in the world and what has nearly happened to some of our cultures in South Africa during apartheid, were it not for the strength of the learned and the activists!

It is important that we promote the nine African languages strongly. We know that languages are living dynamic cultural vehicles that are continuously developing and being modified. They carry the collective wisdom and growth of many generations! Languages have been evolving greatly with the rapidly developing technology.

What we want to do with implementing the Official Languages Act is to deepen democracy and allow our diverse cultures access to all the official documents, policies and legislation that impact on all the people in our country.

We wish to provide equity to the nine languages that have been previously neglected. If this exercise becomes successful, private entities and companies would follow suite as it will improve their business.

African language experts would be in great demand and African language teachers would also be on call. All language practitioners will be regulated by the South African Language Practitioner’s Council as per the Act (The South African Language Practitioners’ Council Act, No. 8 of 2014).

One of the strategic objectives that speak to Outcome 14 is to entrench linguistic diversity and equity; enhance access to government information and services; build capacity in language studies.

Through implementation strategies the department has developed a language policy and legislations which regulate and monitor the use of official languages by government; render translation and editing services to government;

develop and disseminate specialized terminologies for all official languages; develop human language technologies for all official languages; facilitate and support skills development in the language profession through a bursary scheme; facilitate and coordinate intergovernmental dialogues through the National Language Forum.

The Use of Official Languages Act establishes a legislative framework for national government departments, national public entities and national public enterprises to regulate and monitor their use of the official languages; to promote the parity of esteem and equitable treatment of official languages of the Republic; to facilitate equitable access to services and information of national government and to promote good language management for efficient public service administration and to meet the needs of the public, draft their language policies and establish their language units. The Regulations give guidelines to these institutions on how to draft language policies.

According to the Act, every national department, public enterprise and entity must adopt language policy to ensure cooperation on policy and implementation that allow for enhanced community confidence in the work of government regarding multilingualism, nation building and social cohesion.

The stakeholders are required to submit regular reports to the Minister of Arts and Culture and to the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) on developments following the prescripts in the Act.

By 31 March 2015 all stakeholders are expected to have gazetted their language policies for public comments and this will provide enough time to adopt policies by the new due date of 2 May 2015.

The gathering of this nature should give us time to interrogate the reports submitted and assist one another as a collective to input on the policies that will be gazetted for public comment.

I would like to conclude with the thoughts of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, the famous Kenyan writer and philosopher who tells us that most African literature is oral. He argues that colonisation was not simply a process of physical subjugation but that language was a means of spiritual subjugation.

He says that, “colonialism and imperialism continues to control the economy, politics and culture of Africa”.

Being conscious of the importance of language, I wish this workshop great success and would like to see greater service delivery to our people.

I thank you.