AfriForum comments on proposed reviewed language policy of DAC

AfriForum has just submitted its comments on the proposed reviewed language policy of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC). The Department’s previous language policy, which came into effect on 2 November 2014, contained the undertaking that the policy would be reviewed at least once every five years and with the publication of the reviewed policy in the Government Gazette of 8 March 2019, this was upheld.

The reviewed policy deviates only slightly from the policy of 2014. According to Alana Bailey, Deputy CEO of AfriForum responsible for language matters, this is both good and bad.

“It is gratifying that the Department still not only selects the minimum of three languages for official usage, as is required by the Use of Official Languages Act, 2012 (Act No. 12 of 2012), but instead chooses to use all eleven official languages. The renewed recognition of the importance of multilingualism in the country is also of great importance.”

“On the other hand, however, the reality is that when a member of the public requires the Department’s services, multilingualism or assistance in their own language is certainly not a given. If the Department is serious about multilingualism, it should set out more concrete steps to ensure that services will indeed be delivered in all eleven languages. The complaint mechanism for which the policy provides is also vaguely defined: no fixed address, a long waiting period of two months for a response to a complaint, no indication of what will happen if the answer is not received within that time, and no time limit for a response to an appeal against a finding either.”

According to Bailey, AfriForum also suggests that the Department should actively promote multilingualism by encouraging staff to study more official languages and by rewarding multilingual staff. Currently, it appears that staff sometimes deny their language skills, because multilingual people tend to be overloaded by colleagues who are fluent in fewer languages. Recognition for language skills is therefore essential to reverse the situation and to encourage monolingual staff to become proficient in more languages, including sign language.

“In the coming months, more government departments are likely to review their policies as well. The Use of Official Languages Act, 2012 (Act No. 12 of 2012) made the compilation and revision of a language policy mandatory for all state institutions, but unfortunately there are still institutions that do not comply with this obligation. In practice, there is also little effort to use any language consistently other than poor English. The public must learn to claim their language rights. The obligation towards state institutions is often neglected because so few voices are heard against English monolingualism,” Bailey concludes.

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