Pretoria: Government took a major step towards promoting the equitable use of official languages when Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile tabled the Use of Official Languages Bill in Parliament on Tuesday.
The Bill is aimed at ensuring that government elevates the status of especially indigenous languages and promotes their widespread use. The Bill will also make a massive contribution towards the national effort to promote multilingualism.
“We wish to reiterate that 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. In the long run, we will endeavor to equally promote the use of sign language,” said the minister.
As a result of this Bill, 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 thus contribute to the goal of building an empowered citizenry.
“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,” he said.
Mashatile added that the Bill provided for the establishment of a national language unit. The unit will, amongst other things, advise the Minister of Arts and Culture 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 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.
The minister said the Bill applied to all national departments, national public entities and national public enterprises. It obliges every national department to adopt a language policy on the use of official languages for official purposes.
In terms of the Bill language, policies by national departments should, among others, identify at least three official languages to be used for official purposes. When identifying these three official languages, national 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 Bill also gives powers to the Minister of Arts and Culture to monitor the use of official languages by getting reports from departments on the activities of their language units.
The minister is required, on an annual basis, to table a report to Parliament on the use of official languages for the provision of government services.