Speech by Hon Thandile Sunduza during the National Assembly Arts and Culture Second Reading debate on Language Practitioner`s Council Bill [B14B - 2013]

24 October 2013

Topic: Transforming the Language Practice Sector into a Recognised Profession

Honourable Speaker
Honourable Minister Mashatile
Honourable Deputy Minister Phaahla
Members of Parliament
Distinguished in the Guests in the Gallery

Speaker, the ANC has always been in favour of multilingualism. from as far back as the Freedom Charter, the liberation party declared that: All people shall have equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs.

Some people do not recognise the catastrophic impact that colonialism and apartheid had on African languages. There was a deliberate onslaught against Africans and their languages, especially the First People, the Khoi Khoi and San who fought against oppression from as early as the 15 century.

When dealing with questions about equality and multilingualism, you would expect to have the full support of perpetrators of linguistic exclusionivism who trampled on indigenous languages and coerced Africans to speak their languages. During that process, the illegitimate state used Africans` taxes to marginalise their languages while languages of the oppressors were promoted.

You will find that even within certain political parties today, the idea of giving equal status to all indigenous languages is perceived as a threat to dominant languages such like English.

We want to assure South Africans, abantu bethu, that Bills such as the Use of Official Languages Bill passed last year and the Bill we are passing today will not suppress any of the official languages but promote all languages so that they are treated the same in both government and commerce. The Bill addresses the legitimate concerns of language and culture and does not narrow its scope to protecting just one or two languages, but all 11 official languages. In fact, the Language Practitioner`s Council Bill will ensure that equal status is given to all historically diminished languages like Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Venda, Xitsonga, and others, without taking away English and Afrikaans.

The Council will be responsible for professionalisation of the use of indigenous languages and protecting all language practitioners from all the official languages in South Africa.

Right now only English and Afrikaans have some resemblance to a professional sector, but this is unregulated and cannot cater for all 11 official languages. While there are voluntary organisations that purport to provide professional registration of language practitioners, these remain unregulated and only cater for a mainly white minority. There is no evidence that suggests that language practitioners are accountable and that they are obliged to meet the necessary standards of service.

Hence, the Council will enforce registration of all language practitioners with the Council so that all individuals providing language services are identified and adhere to a particular level of professionalism. The establishment of the Council will demonstrate that accredited language skills are more likely to provide effective language services. Hence, as the Minister correctly says, the role of the Council will be to govern the language practitioners and turn them into a professionally recognised sector.

The ethics guiding any industry are profoundly important because they will strengthen the moral character of the language sector so that it is no longer perceived as an unscrupulous sector where people provide poor services and get away with it.

When it comes to African languages you find that people do not want to pay translators because they are our mothers, uncles and siblings. And so, people say why must we pay our own people? The Bill is saying you must pay language practitioners who are registered with the Council because they are providing a professional language service for you.

Hence, the proposed Council will promote indigenous languages by ensuring that people working in the language sector are not exploited and are paid for their worth. If you look at the profile of people who speak indigenous languages, ngabantu bethu. These are people from our communities, our townships and our villages and they are so impoverished they don`t even know how to access the language sector as a trade.

It will be the Council`s responsibility to ensure that people from disadvantaged communities enter the language sector and find jobs as interpreters, translators, writers, editors and so forth. The Council will encourage people from poor communities to participate in the language sector and to earn a living.

People who are exploited in an industry tend to move away from that industry once they realise hayi bayaqhathwa! South Africa has also moved away from promoting unregulated sectors that take advantage of less powerful people. The ability of language to link people up with services offered by the government is what the Use of Official Languages Bill is trying to achieve. For instance, you will find that when you go to a hospital the patient does not speak English or Afrikaans and there is no one to interpret what the medical staff is saying.

In cases like this, accredited language practitioners would facilitate doctor-patient communication and ensure that the patient understands what they are being told. When people feel closer to their society and their resources, and they feel that they are not excluded, we call this social cohesion and this is important for developing our democracy.

Sometimes you will find that when you have an interpreter they are not doing a very good job of translating information and you fail to understand anything that is being said even though it is being said in your own home language. This Bill is clear that the Council must regulate the training of language practitioners to ensure that they meet certain standards in the sector. The Council will also organise language practitioners similarly to any other trade with its own standards, authority, and policies. The Council will be responsible for prescribing the rules for how the language sector should be governed. Honourable Speaker, the Language Practitioner`s Council Bill debate has come at a time when many people have been crying out for their languages to be recognised. We do see some progress in the media with news channels offering content in indigenous languages, but this is a drop in the ocean of what is possible.

Language rights will only be recognised once this Bill is passed. As the African National Congress has a mandate from over 65% of South Africa voters, it is our obligation that we bring such services to the people. The African National Congress views this Bill as way to undo the damage that was done by the Apartheid minority government. Honourable Speaker, the African National Congress sees this Bill as a continuation of the work that we started in 1976.

The ANC supports the Bill.

Thank you.