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The Broadcasting Amendment Bill of 2002

Submission by Tabema* and the Taalsekretariaat**

(This document can be made available in any of the official languages on request.)

Executive Summary

Tabema and the Taalsekretariaat welcome the intention of the Portfolio Committee on Communication to increase language diversity on SABC TV. Against the background of a public broadcaster which has aimed to be transformed from a state broadcaster to a true democratic and public broadcaster (also in terms of the IBA Act), and has publicly stated its commitment to democracy and transparency, and its belief in partnership with its target audiences, we feel that any proposed new legislation, such as the Broadcasting Amendment Bill of 2002, which may put media freedom and the SABC’s status as a true public broadcaster at risk, should only be considered, if at all, as an absolute last resort. It is our view that the SABC can easily meet its mandate with regard to language diversity, without any new legislation or additional TV channels being required for this purpose. To support this view, some practical suggestions are made as to how language diversity can be increased within the existing legal framework and with the existing infrastructure.

  1. Basic assumptions regarding TV broadcasting and the language demography of South Africa

    In order to successfully implement the transformation of the SABC to a public service division and a commercial service division, the internationally accepted norms*** and characteristics of a Public Service Broadcaster (PBS) and a Commercial Broadcaster should be considered. These are as follows:

  1. The characteristics of Public Service Broadcasting and Commercial Broadcasting

  1. Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) generally implies the following characteristics:

  1. Public ownership, usually involving a large degree of financial autonomy; accountable to the public through parliament (which does not imply state control, ie not a state broadcaster).
  2. Universal availability through open broadcasts (ie unconditional access), irrespective of geographical location; the coverage area is therefore national (countrywide), or regional when directed at a specific interest and/or cultural group.
  3. PSB caters for all interests and tastes, with commitment to a balanced schedule across the different programme genres, which would incorporate elements of information, education, and entertainment.
  4. PSB also caters for minorities; this means that every member of the viewing or listening public will, at some time or another, find something of interest in its programmes.
  5. There is a concern for the “national identity and community“, implying a focus on domestic programmes too (as opposed to only programmes with a “universal” or “international” approach, or from foreign sources).
  6. PSB programme content should be independent of vested interests and government; political impartiality means political output should be impartial and balanced.
  7. PSB should be funded mainly by its users from licences and/or fiscal funds; licence fee funding is a form of (poll) tax levied on the owners of television receivers. In most cases, with the notable exception of the BBC and Australian ABC, advertising is a common supplement to the licence fee income.
  8. The emphasis in PSB is on programming rather than on audience numbers.
  9. Local production is an obligation to transmit a minimum level of domestically produced programmes.

  1. Commercial Broadcasting, by contrast, is typically characterised by the following criteria:

  1. Privately owned, usually accountable only to its shareholders.
  2. Profit driven: the aim of commercial broadcasting is to make a profit, and funding is derived from commercial sources. It does not claim any licence fee income, but is funded by either subscription fees or advertising or sponsorship, or a combination of these.
  3. Limited geographical coverage: commercial services are normally targeted at profitable areas, often using conditional areas (eg encoded broadcasts).
  4. There is a selected spectrum of affordable and popular programmes (mainly entertainment and recreational).
  5. Generally speaking, commercial broadcasters are liable to have fewer commitments to provide specific levels of balanced output, domestic origination, and impartiality than their public service counterparts.
  6. The programming focus is normally on broad market needs.
  7. Commercial broadcasters are usually regulated on foreign and cross-media ownership.
  8. The aim is to attract the maximum number of viewers and listeners.
  9. As part of the broadcasting “licence fee”, an obligation to comply with requirements regarding local content, language diversity, and news.

  1. Comments on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill of 2002 in terms of the above definitions and concepts

We believe that these norms and characteristics should form the basis of the proposed amendment bill, and that all amendments should be aimed at achieving this.

In general, the Bill as amended would give the state more direct control over the content, finance and administration of the SABC. Specific amendments to this effect are the following:

(6)(4) The Board must prepare and submit to the Minister for approval within three months after the date of conversion, policies governing the exercise of accurate, accountable and fair reporting in order to advance the national and public interest of the Republic. (Note: we have been informed that this amendment has possibly been withdrawn.)

11(b)(3) The old Corporation shall, by no later than three months prior to the date of conversion, submit to the minister for approval -

(c) a set of policies of the public broadcasting service division relating to -

  1. news editorial policy;
  2. programming policy;
  3. local content policy;
  4. educational policy;
  5. universal service and access policy; and
  6. language policy.

12(2) The Corporation must, by not later than a date three months prior to the date of conversion, submit to the Minister for approval -

(c) a set of policies of the commercial broadcasting service division relating to -

  1. news editorial policy;
  2. programming policy;
  3. local content policy; and
  4. language policy.

The possible risk to media freedom, and to the status of the SABC as a public broadcaster free of government control and interference, posed by these amendments, should be weighed carefully against the need for tangible measures to enable the SABC to fulfil its mandate regarding language diversity. In this regard the proposed amendment -

11(4) The policies of the public broadcasting service division stipulated in subsection 3(c) must include a code of conduct of the Corporation services and personnel that reflects -
(ii) the principle of equality and suitable treatment of all South African official languages as enshrined in the Constitution;

the language policy envisaged in 12(2)(c )(iv), although it is not in our opinion to be approved by the Minister;

is to be welcomed. However, if Parliament is proceeding with the Amendment Bill, we propose that clause 23(2)(a) be amended as follows by also inserting the word “language”:

23(2)(a) reflect the culture, character, language, religion, needs and aspirations of the people in the regions that they are licensed to serve subject to licence conditions;

The proposed insertion of the words “spiritually enriching” into section 32 of the principal Act so that it now reads

25. Section 32 of the principal Act is hereby amended by the substitution in subsection (4) for paragraph (b) of the following paragraph:
“(b) be informational, educational, spiritually enriching and entertaining”

is, however, contrary to the internationally accepted norm that PBS stands on three principles, namely that it be “informational, educational, and entertaining” (for which the word “infotainment” has been coined). Although well-intentioned, the proposed insertion of the words “spiritually enriching” is both internationally unacceptable and contentious.

It is the view of Tabema and the Taalsekretariaat that the proposed legislation is not required for the stated purpose of promoting language diversity, since it is quite possible for the SABC, within the existing legal framework and using its existing infrastructure, to fulfil its mandate as far as language diversity is concerned. It is therefore also unnecessary to introduce two new TV channels in order to increase language diversity. If the introduction of two new TV channels is done for other purposes, it should be clearly stated why. Also, if Parliament is to continue considering the Amendment Bill, it is suggested that the division of the two regional TV services into a northern and southern region TV service respectively, does not reflect the language demography of South Africa, for which a division between an eastern and a western TV service respectively would be more appropriate. In the absence of any maps indicating the service areas of the proposed new northern and southern region TV services, it is difficult to give meaningful comments on this aspect.

In this proposal, Tabema and the Taalsekretariaat would like to table some concrete and practical suggestions as to how language diversity can be achieved. It is hoped that these suggestions, which have already been discussed with the SABC on numerous occasions, will be of some value to the Portfolio Committee in holding the public broadcaster to its mandate.

  1. The development of all South Africa’s languages is of critical importance for sustainable development

    A resolution by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) on the occasion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development stresses the importance of “recognising cultural diversity and promoting the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities“.

  1. The proposals of Tabema and the Taalsekretariaat are based on the following language-demographic facts:

  1. According to the size of mother-tongue groups our society consists (mainly) of 11 minority groups.
  2. According to the geographical distribution of languages, there is a definite concentration and dominance of specific languages in certain areas.
  3. As regards the understanding of languages in South Africa: According to demographic projections for 2001, based on the 1996 census, 93,4% of the population understand at least one language from one of the following groups, namely, Nguni (20,5 million first-language users, ie 45,2%), Sotho (11,5 million first-language users, ie 25,4%), Afrikaans (6,4 million first-language users, ie 14,2%) and English (3,9 million first-language users, ie 8,6%). The smaller and non-cognate languages are spoken by 6,6% of the population. The percentage that understand one of the four main languages/language groups rises to 98% if one takes into account that a great number of mother-tongue speakers of all these languages understand one or more of the other languages as well. However, no single language is understood by the majority of South Africans. For instance, only about half of the total population understand English. These sociolinguistic facts are of special significance for the grouping of languages on different TV channels, and for meaningful and effective communication.
  4. As regards mass communication and broadcasting in the modern world: technology favours cultural and language diversity. This implies that the air waves are “as wide as God’s grace” and modern technology is “a gift of God to live and let live” and for the provision of the opportunity for uninhibited cultural expression. Technology allows us to serve several communities at once without discriminating against anyone.

  1. Proposals for a fair, equitable and affordable language dispensation

  1. The four languages/language groups should be used as the basis for a fair, equitable and affordable language dispensation for the SABC on its TV channels:

  1. Nguni languages
  2. Sotho languages
  3. Afrikaans
  4. English.

This means that xiTsonga and tshiVenda, for example, would require special treatment as not being included in any of the four groups, and that sign language would be spread across all four groups (note that sub-titles do not really cater for the deaf, since the majority of the deaf in South Africa are illiterate, due to the special difficulties of learning to read a language other than sign language).

  1. Cognate and culturally related languages/language groups should be grouped together to share the same TV channel. This would mean that -

  1. The Nguni and Sotho language groups should have one channel each, and
  2. Afrikaans and English should share a channel.

This would eliminate unnecessary channel hopping. It would also reflect more accurately the true language demography of the country, with the Nguni and Sotho languages spoken by the great majority of South Africans, and therefore entitled to the lion’s share of the available TV space.

  1. A block shared approach should be used for languages sharing the same channel. This could mean, for example, that one language be accommodated in the late afternoon/early evening slot for three days per week, and the alternative language (for the same channel) be allocated the late evening slot on the same three days, with a vice versa allocation on the other three days of the week. The seventh day (which presumably will be Sundays) could have a mixed scheduling approach. Viewers should know beforehand what language programmes to expect during any specific time slot, and on which channel(s).

  2. minimum guaranteed programme content per week for each of the four languages/language groups should be given by the SABC. Given the availability of three TV channels, as much as 30 hours per week in each of the four languages/language groups during peak viewing time is possible. According to statistics provided by the SABC, even during prime time, English presently dominates all SABC TV channels: During the period April 2001 to March 2002, English occupied 70,6% of SABC 1, 47,9% of SABC 2 and 100% of the SABC 3 schedule. These figures are even higher than the corresponding figures for April 1999.

    It is proposed that, in the short term (to be attained within one year), the SABC endeavour to guarantee 20 hours/week minimum in each of the four languages/language groups. At present this would mean increasing the amount of Sotho and Afrikaans programming. Eventually, a realistic goal of a minimum of 30 hours/week should be striven for in the long term (5 years’ time). The languages not catered for, which receive little or no coverage at the moment, should also be guaranteed a minimum in the short term of (say) two hours/week.

  3. All the available technological capabilities to cater for a multilingual society should be exploited to the full in order to achieve the above guaranteed minimum programme content for each of the four languages/language groups. These include subtitles, dubbing, simulcast and transmitter separation.

  1. Subtitles: Of these, subtitles is the cheapest method, although a culture of subtitles (which is hardly used at present by the SABC, except to cater for the needs of English speakers) would have to be established by the SABC. In countries like the Netherlands and Israel, subtitles in a different language are used extensively to cater for multilingual needs.
  2. Simulcast: Simulcast (the use of multiple sound channels for the same video feed) is especially suitable for sports commentaries, and could utilise the FM network for alternative simultaneous sound channels.
  3. Transmitter separation: Transmitter separation (regional broadcasts) should take into consideration the language demography of South Africa and the fact that a number of indigenous languages are highly concentrated geographically. It could, for example, be used for the marginalised languages, like xiTsonga and tshiVenda, since both are to a large extent concentrated in specific geographic areas.

  1. Within the guaranteed minimum for each language/language group (above) an acceptable spread of programme categories (genres) should be covered for each language/language group, for example -

    Programme genre

    Adult drama
    Youth drama/magazine

      Min h/week


    The modern trend in TV broadcasting world-wide is towards low-cost, custom-made, community-directed programmes.

    It is far more preferable to enjoy a low-cost discussion programme, using two TV cameras and a small studio, televised in a marginalised language which is broadcast in the region where the language is dominant, than having to tune in to a high cost programme in another language which is not well understood.

  1. Conclusion: Towards a truly public broadcasting system and equity of languages and cultures on TV

  1. Tabema and the Taalsekretariaat are of the opinion that the SABC and other role players have the infrastructure and abilities to provide our society with a broadcasting service which would satisfy the diverse needs and tastes of our language and cultural communities. For this purpose we need no further amendments to the Broadcasting Act. Nor are additional TV channels required. All we require is the (political) will to implement further the existing language policy of the SABC (1995) and apply the knowledge gained from studies and surveys of the listening and viewing habits of the SABC’s target audiences since the introduction of TV more than two decades ago.

  2. Since 1996, the proposals put forward here have been submitted at several levels to the SABC and also to the previous Independent Broadcasting Authority. As a result of the lack of continuity this has had few results. However, as in the case of the language issue at other levels of our society, solutions could easily be found in co-operation between the political authorities and civil society (eg cultural organisations).

  3. Finally, we propose that the Portfolio Committee initiate a workshop on how language diversity could be implemented more effectively with the existing infrastructure and on the available TV channels. Such a workshop should involve all relevant role players (SABC, M-Net, eTV etc), the different language groups and cultural organisations and other civil society formations, and should ideally be arranged in consultation with the Pan-South African Language Board (PANSALB) as the constitutional body responsible for the promotion of multilingualism. The Taalsekretariaat and Tabema would like to offer their co-operation in the planning of such a workshop.

* Tabema was initially established in 1995 under the auspices of the Stigting vir Afrikaans (at present the Stigting vir Bemagtiging deur Afrikaans) as a non-racial, non-political task group for the empowerment of Afrikaans users on SABC TV. Since 1999 this task group has been focusing on the equity of all languages and cultures on SABC TV. In collaboration with the Taalsekretariaat, this task group’s mission is the practice of broadcasting in a multilingual and multicultural society. With this mission, Tabema is sponsored by the Taalsekretariaat.
** The Taalsekretariaat is an independent organisation with its own administrative structure, staff and funding. The mission of the Taalsekretariaat is the promotion of the indigenous languages of South Africa as adequate means of communication for both mother-tongue and non-mother-tongue speakers within and beyond the borders of South Africa.
*** See the Report of the Task Group on Broadcasting in South and Southern Africa, Chairman: Prof Christo Viljoen, August 1991, Government Printer, Pretoria.

Signed by:

Profs Koos du Toit and Christo Viljoen
(for Tabema)


André van der Walt and Gerrit Brand
(for the Taalsekretariaat)

Contact details:

For Tabema:

Prof Koos du Toit
Heresingel 12, Simonswyk, Stellenbosch 7600
Tel: 021-8833136
E-mail: koosdutoit@freemail.absa.co.za

Prof. Christo Viljoen
6 Hof Avenue, Union Park, Stellenbosch 7600
Tel: 021-8833754
E-mail: hcv@sun.ac.za

For the Taalsekretariaat:

Gerrit Brand:
Pisonstraat 25
Stellenbosch 7600
Tel: 021-8800846
E-mail: taal@linguasek.co.za

André van der Walt
Heroldstraat 15
Stellenbosch 7600
Tel: 021-8872713 / 8872736
Fax: 021-8872710
E-mail: utilitas@iafrica.com

Addendum to Tabema and the Taalsekretariaat’s submission on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill of 2002

As a sociologist, student of the “uses and abuses” of TV, and a member of Tabema since its establishment in 1995, herewith a few introductory remarks and additional facts pertaining to television and the language demography of our country.

A Television

  1. When the first flickering images appeared on a TV screen in 1938, the American essayist EB White wrote the following in Harper’s Magazine: “I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and in the new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky.” This “unbearable disturbance of the general peace” lies at the root of the issue of the control over, and the independence of the broadcasting media.

  2. Political power and the control over the news and information functions of TV go hand in hand. To all governments all over the world, it is a “first prize”.

  3. In his publication Media Power (1972) with the most appropriate subtitle, Who is shaping your picture of the world? , Robert Stein, at the time an American journalist with 25 years’ experience, said the following about the power or effect of TV:

  • Using a media prophet of the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan’s description “The medium is the message”, Stein said: “We are living among the first people in history to experience distant crisis with their nervous systems rather than their minds.” (p 16)
  • “In the world of communications satellites we no longer step into a daily bath — we are plunged into an ocean of words and images. Immersion in the news, which used to be reassuring and relaxing, now leaves many of us exhausted and anxious.” (p 19)
  • In his publication The Media and Political Violence (1981), Richard Clutterbuck said, “the most important freedom of all to protect, however, is editorial freedom, to publish or not to publish, under the guidance of the public’s free choice.” And with regard to this editorial freedom and the maintenance of a “reasonable society” in situations of stress and conflict, Clutterbuck concludes with the following sentence: “In the battle for survival of the reasonable society the television camera is the super tank — the Queen of the Battlefield. Ordinary mortals are wise to learn her ways and treat her with respect, but those who serve in her entourage have an awful responsibility.” (p 164)

    And this “awful responsibility” as regards TV could only be maintained under conditions of freedom of the media, diversity and competition, but certainly not in a situation of political interference and control.

    The transformed SABC has also promised this kind of responsibility in its Language Policy (1994/95) which is based on the “spirit of the constitution”, and with “vision and values” aimed at “a healing role” and “equity” of languages and cultures.

    It is my impression, after the few contacts that we have had at different levels — the last one on June 12 — that the SABC, despite a lack of continuity, is moving in this direction. They only need more direct contacts and constructive support from the target audiences and different language communities.

    B Die taal-demografiese situasie: dis ‘n kwessie van feite, wanpersepsies en vooroordele.

    Aanvullend tot paragraaf 1.3 (“language demographic facts”) in die voorlegging, hiermee ook die volgende:

    1. Die geografiese/provinsiale taalverspreiding soos bereken vir 1999 toon ‘n duidelike patroon. Volgens die taalverspreiding vir die onderskeie provinsies vir 1999 is Afrikaans die grootste taalgroep in die Wes-Kaap met 58,58%, Noord-Kaap met 69,74%. Die Zulu-sprekers vorm die grootste enkele taalgroep in Gauteng (21,5%), KwaZulu-Natal (79,71%) en Mpumalanga (25,7%). Noordwes met 66,93% is oorwegend Setswana-sprekend en die Vrystaat met 62,03% oorwegend Sesotho-sprekend. Die Oos-Kaap met 83,74% wat Xhosa as eerste taal het, is uit dié oogpunt die mees eentalige provinsie. Hiernaas is die westelike en noordwestelike gedeelte van die land oorwegend Afrikaans. Dit is opvallend dat Engels in geeneen van die provinsies die grootste taalgroep vorm nie. In die Oos-Kaap vorm Afrikaanssprekendes volgens die projeksies vir 2006 met 9,6% nog ‘n groter huistaalgroep as Engelssprekendes met 6,2%.

    2. Engels is nie die enigste lingua franca van Suid-Afrika nie.
      In dié verband sê Kathleen Heugh (Preasa, UK): “We do not have, nor are we likely to have a single language which can function as a viable lingua franca in this country. The fact of the matter is that 80% of the population is proficient in languages other than English, and is unable to use English as a useful tool for communication for anything other than very limited communicative functions. In other words, no more than 20% has an adequate proficiency of English for communicative purposes in the workplace, for accessing services, for deriving meaning from the education system, or for participating in provincial and national tiers of government. Yet, the leadership of the country, by which I mean those in senior positions both within government and civil society, persist in one-directional communicative activities through a language that makes little meaning for the majority. Thus, the apparently inexorable drive toward a reliance on English as the predominant language for communication means quite simply that we are leaving 80% of the people on the fringe, beyond the borders of democratic participation.” (Aanhaling uit “Effective and efficient multilingualism in the building of a democratic South Africa or linguistic hegemony and marginalisation“, ‘n referaat gelewer by die International Conference on Consolidating Democracy in South Africa, Umtata, 18-20 Augustus, 1999.)

    3. Ter wille van volhoubare ontwikkeling in Suid-Afrika en in Afrika is die ontwikkeling van die inheemse tale onontbeerlik.
      Nader tuis, ten opsigte van Afrika beweer Kwesi Kwaa Prah in Mother Tongue for Scientific and Technological development in Africa (1995) dat die kontinent se agtergeblewenheid tot ‘n hoë mate te make het met die feit dat die tale van die koloniste (Engels, Frans en Portugees) deur die klein heersende elite as amptelike tale gebruik word, terwyl die breë massa agtergelaat word in hulle moedertale. In dié verband meen Prah: “… African languages may be today possibly the most crucial missing link in the planning, propagation and development of culture, science and technology based on known and historical foundations rooted in the practices of the people. [1] (Kursivering myne)

    4. Demokratisering = Veeltaligheid
      Oor die gebruik van die inheemse tale en die demokratisering van nie-Westerse samelewings sê Huntington: “To the extent that non-Western societies establish democratic institutions and the people in those societies participate more extensively in government, the use of Western languages declines and indigenous languages become more prevalent.” Na aanleiding van voorbeelde van wat in Oos-Europa ná die einde van die Sowjet-ryk en die Koue Oorlog gebeur het, kom Huntington tot die volgende gevolgtrekking: “Language is realigned and reconstructed to accord with the identities and contours of civilizations. As power diffuses Babelization spreads.”[2] En só ontwikkel in ons geglobaliseerde wêreld inderdaad ook ‘n verinheemsing van die eie en unieke.

    5. Die kwessie van die verstaanbaarheid van Afrikaans en Engels
      In MarkData se verslag Language use and Language Interaction in South Africa — A National Sociolinguistic survey, is onder andere ondersoek gedoen oor die verstaanbaarheid van die onderskeie tale, asook meer spesifiek die vlak waarop die toesprake of uitsprake van prominente leiers verstaan word. Hieroor veralgemeen die verslag soos volg: “The results show that more than 40% of the people in South African often do not, or seldom, understand what is being communicated in English. Even among Afrikaans speaking people, about 26% have problems in understanding the communication. Among speakers of African languages, generally fewer than 20% of the people understand the communication fully. This amounts to inadvertent exclusion of the very people who are targeted for support by politicians.”

      Met insluiting van hul huistaal verstaan volgens dié opname 29% van ons land se inwoners Afrikaans, teenoor 36% wat Engels verstaan. Met inagneming van die wyer geografiese verspreiding van Afrikaans is dit dus duidelik dat dié taal in net só ‘n mate beskou sou kon word as ‘n lingua franca in Suid-Afrika. Dit is ook insiggewend dat 54% van die Afrikaanssprekendes Engels verstaan teenoor 50% van die Engelssprekendes wat wel Afrikaans verstaan.[3]

    6. Engels geniet op TV voorkeur bo Afrikaans, “die Apartheidstaal”
      In 1994 met die transformasie van die SAUK na SABC is onder andere gesê: “Swart mense wil nie Afrikaans op hulle TV-skerms sien en hoor nie.” Maar die pendule het begin terugswaai. Sedert 1996 het al die AMPS-gegewens in verband met kykers- en luisteraarsgedrag die teendeel van hierdie persepsies bewys. Soos oral in die wêreld verkies kykers en luisteraars in Suid-Afrika kommunikasie in hulle moedertaal. En in ‘n multikulturele samelewing en geglobaliseerde wêreld verkies hulle dié programme, hetsy in hulle moedertaal of hul tweede taal, waarmee hulle hulself maatskaplik en kultureel kan identifiseer.[4]

      For sustainable development and further democratization in our society, we only need to put into practice what the transformed SABC spelt out in its language policy and in its vision and mission several years ago. For more effective and meaningful public broadcasting in a diverse society, we definitely need less — not more — political and governmental control.

    [1] Prah, K.K. (1995). Mother tongue for scientific and technological development in Africa. Bonn: German Foundation for International Development: 9.
    [2] Huntington, Samuel P. (1996). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York: Simon & Schuster: 59, 61, 64.
    [3] MarkData (Pty) Ltd (2000). Language use and Language Interaction in South Africa — A National Sociolinguistic Survey. Pretoria: Pan South African Language Board: 138, 176.
    [4] AMPS-gegewens en menings soos opgeteken in Tabema se voorleggings aan die SAUK.


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