A.T. van der Walt. Chief Executive Officer Taalsekretariaat.
Die Taalsekretariaat is a non-governmental organisation and a statutory Trust, governed by a Board of Trustees and funded from the private sector. The main objectives of the Trust are to promote the status and Constitutional rights of the indigenous languages of South Africa. It is our conviction that empowerment and constitutional democracy starts with the recognition of a first language of choice in all spheres of life. In the furtherance of its objectives Die Taalsekretariaat is involved in various educational projects, especially in previously marginalized communities, to introduce and sustain first language instruction. Other projects of note are the facilitation of language rights with the central and local government, financial contributions to a political dictionary with the ultimate aim being to make political terminology accessible in all eleven official languages of South Africa, and the financial support of students and academics in the realm of linguistics. Plans are in an advanced stage to launch a multilingual project in schools in the in the Western Cape.
I have been given a mandate by the Trustees to present this submission to your Portfolio Committee.
A.T. van der Walt. Chief Executive Officer.
1. A Socio-Political Perspective.
In terms of our Constitution, it is the responsibility of government to enhance, protect and enforce the civil rights of subjects and respect the rights of self-defined communities in terms of language, religion and culture. The government is thus obliged to observe the constitutional provisions relating to spontaneous and self-defined communal rights. The proposed COMMISSION FOR THE PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF THE RIGHTS OF CULTURAL, RELIGIOUS AND LINGUISTIC COMMUNITIES BILL is an example of legislation whereby government attempts to create an environment within which diverse cultural, religious and linguistic communities can survive. It is within the broad defines of the Constitution of the Republic of South-Africa, and a statutory framework created in terms thereof, that communal rights such as culture, religion and language must be respected, protected, and advanced.
There is a plethora of academic opinions regarding the definition and impact of language, religion and culture on human behaviour. We submit in this presentation that these forms of human expression represent the very fibre and essence of human existence. Religion, culture and language are the conceptualisation of how humans experience and interpret reality and transcendental forces. These forms of human expression represent the armour within which communities experience basic human needs such as pain and pleasure; security and sin; empowerment and empathy. It is the predisposition of a particular culture that instils meaning to virginity and divinity. Religion, language and culture can unleash the most destructive forms of oppression, or elevate man to the pinnacle of expression, and the ultimate in human creativity.
If government fails in its obligation to provide equitable and legitimate structures to cultivate and enforce the communal rights of communities, such a neglect will most certainly give rise to a feeling of deprivation in such communities. Past experience, backed by scientific evidence in the analysis of international conflicts, has proven that neglect by governments in the granting of credence to self-determination of minorities within the confines of the State, will inevitably lead to alienation, deprivation and conflict, thus seriously undermining the sovereignty of the State and the legitimacy of the Constitution. To quote but one authority on the subject:
Culture assists us in differentiating between different communities. The concept has a role in most searches for an authentic identity. It remains a potentially powerful mobilising force in national and international conflict. In fact, the difficulties of intercultural understanding and the over-emphasis on cultural nationalism have kindled, and continue to kindle war within and between states Rood: P1 Introduction.
South-Africa as a multi-cultural society of different and exclusive religious, cultural and linguistic communities is a likely candidate for communal and group related conflict if the government does not provide a save haven within which communal rights can be exercised and protected.
The Bill is to introduce a state institution supporting constitutional democracy in terms of Chapter 9 of the Constitution of South-Africa. Other institutions created in terms of Chapter 9 are The South-African Human Rights Commission (HRC), the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE), the Public Protector, The Independent Broadcasting Authority, The Electoral Commission and the Auditor General.
In this submission due cognisance has been taken of the fact that the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Linguistic and Religious Communities is the result of negotiations which gave birth to the Constitution of South-Africa. It was on the insistence of a sector of the Afrikaans speaking community that provision was made for the creation of the Commission in the Constitution.
It is our considered opinion to submit and respectfully request your Portfolio Committee not to proceed with the enactment of the proposed Bill and to suspend the introduction thereof for at least 2 years. The reasons for our stance, which will be argued in more detail below, are as follows:
There is a symbiotic relationship between state-created institutions and legislation, which provide for the protection of language and cultural rights of the diverse communities in South Africa. This symbiotic relationship is to be found in the Constitution itself, Human Rights Commission (HRC), the PANSALB Act, the proposed South-African Languages Bill, the Commission, the Department of Arts Culture Science and Technology (DACST) and the nine language Committees operating in each province. To use but one example of the overlapping functions dealing with language:
4. (1)(b) to promote and develop peace, friendship, humanity, tolerance and national unity among and within cultural, religious and linguistic communities on the basis of equality, non-discrimination and free association;
Clause 13.(1)(a) to monitor the use of Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa by the Western Cape Legislature….
13(1) (e) to actively promote the development of the previously marginalized languages&bnsp;…
Serious overlapping exists between the investigative powers of the Commission in the Draft Bill and PANSALB.
In art. 21(1)(c) the Commission is empowered to:
monitor, investigate ………….. advise and report on any issue concerning the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities;
To quote Dr. H.C. Rood, regarded as a leading authority in South Africa on cultural, religious and linguistic rights:
The investigation of alleged language rights violations is an integral part to PANSALBS functions. ……… all matters related to language rights, be they on an individual or on a group basis, are the responsibility of PANSALB. The proposed bill ought to steer clear of provisions concerning the investigation of language violations, unless those violations-
Currently the proposed Bill does neither. Rood: P267.
The overlapping of powers and functions with other institutions of state is addressed in the proposed Bill. Art 22(2) regulates that:
The Commission must co-operate with other Constitutional institutions and organs of state where the functions of the Commission overlap with those of such other Constitutional institutions or organs of state.
Whilst recognising the principle of overlapping, this provision in the Bill relegates the Commission to a marshalling yard between constitutional institutions and organs of state. There are no linguistic issues that are not covered in either the PANSALB legislation or the proposed South African Languages Bill. Instead of promoting respect for and [to] further the protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities, the enactment of the Commission will achieve quite the opposite, viz. frustration, alienation and ultimately conflict between the diverse communities of South Africa.
As for the protection and promotion of the rights of cultural and religious communities, there are ample provisions in the Constitution to protect these rights:
Section 31 states that-
1. Persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right with other members of that community.
(b)to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society.
The overlapping of the objectives, powers and functions of statutory institutions are in principle undesirable and contributes to legal uncertainty, frustration and disrespect for the rule of law. Overlapping of the functions and powers of institutions dealing with linguistic, religious or cultural issues should be avoided. It is evident that there is considerable overlapping in the powers and functions of institutions dealing with linguistic issues. This state of affairs creates legal uncertainty and confusion amongst the various role-players, be it language practitioners, project managers, constitutional institutions or organs of state. The present institutional environment is not conducive to the advancement of language rights or the improvement of the status of the previously marginalized black languages of South Africa. It is a matter of grave concern that we as South Africans, seven years into the new dispensation, still have no legislation on the statute to regulate and protect the official languages. There are no remedial mechanisms in place to effectively monitor language violations. In a certain sense no legislation, bar the Constitutional provisions, is preferable to the present environment, where a number of institutions are mandated to protect, promote and monitor language rights, but at ground level and amongst institutions of state expectation has turned into frustrations.
It is our sincere belief that the enactment of the proposed Bill will not solve any problems in this phase of the development of our democratic dispensation. It will further complicate the issues and will ultimately lead to an increase in the tension between cultural, religious and linguistic communities, instead of its aim to promote respect for and further the protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities.
We respectfully submit that:
With due recognition to the potentially disruptive forces that are inherently part of a multi-cultural society, especially a society in transition such as ours, it is our conviction that the enactment of the proposed Bill will be counter-productive to achieving peace, friendship, humanity and tolerance, among and within cultural, religious and linguistic communities, on the basis of equality, non-discrimination and free association.
We therefore argue against the enactment of the Bill and propose the suspension of the Bill for twenty-four months. In any event, this Bill should not be introduced prior to the enactment of the proposed South African Language Bill. The Bill could then possibly be reintroduced after a comprehensive process of public participation.
What we dont need at this point is the enactment of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Bill, which will be counter-productive in its operation due to the overlapping with existing structures. These deficiencies will render the Commission a cosmetic artefact.
We pray that the Almighty may guide you in your deliberations and decisions.
Thesis submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements for the degree
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