8 August 2012
The South African government took a step towards promoting the equitable use of the country’s 11 official languages when Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile tabled the Use of Official Languages Bill in Parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday.
The Bill was approved without dissent and will now go to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence.
It is aimed at ensuring that the government elevates the status of indigenous languages, in particular, and promotes their use. The Bill will also make a contribution towards the national effort to promote multilingualism.
“This Bill is not aimed at diminishing the significance and use of any of the South African official languages. Through this Bill, we will promote equitable use of all official languages,” Mashatile said.
“In the long run, we will endeavor to equally promote the use of sign language.”
It also means South Africans will have an opportunity to use the official languages of their choice in interacting with government.
“This, we believe, will strengthen efforts to ensure equal access to government services and programmes and contribute to the goal of building an empowered citizenry,” he said.
“Specifically, this Bill seeks to provide for the regulation and monitoring of the use of official languages by national government and public entities for official purposes.”
Establishing national language units
Mashatile added that it provides for the establishment of a national language unit. The unit will advise the Arts and Culture Minister on the policy and strategy to regulate and monitor the use of official languages.
It also provides for the establishment of language units in every national department, public entity and national public enterprise to advise the national department on the development, adoption, and implementation and monitoring of its language policy.
He said that through the Bill, government was giving effect to the provisions of Section 6 of the Constitution, which not only identifies 11 official languages but also obliges the state to take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of indigenous languages.
In terms of the Bill, language policies by national departments should identify at least three official languages to be used for official purposes.
When identifying these three official languages, departments must take into account its Constitutional obligation to take practical steps to elevate the status and advance the use of indigenous languages whose historic use and status was diminished.
The Arts and Culture Minister will be required to annually table a report to Parliament on the use of official languages for the provision of government services.