The people of South Africa run the risk of losing their identity as indigenous languages continue to be sidelined by government departments, according to the Pan South African Language Board (PSALB).
Yesterday the board announced the results of public hearings held in 2017 at which 42 national government departments were invited to give feedback on their observance of the Use of Official Languages Act of 2012 (UOLA).
Thirty-one departments participated and only four departments have reviewed their language policies since then, PSALB project manager and head of the Gauteng office, Dr Sally Maepa, said.
Each department was expected to present its language policy in line with the prescripts of the Language Act and their language policy implementation plan. But the departments’ presentations showed “very little” had been done by government to promote the country’s official languages.
“There is lack of understanding of why the promotion of all 11 languages and status elevation of previously marginalised official languages are important.
“Almost all departments perceived UOLA and the multilingual language policy implementation as provision of translation and interpreting services, rather than creating equitable space for the official languages to grow.
“They unequivocally displayed a strong preference to default to English on the assumption that it is easier, logical and the only language inherently able compared to others,” Maepa said.
After the hearings, the board implemented guidelines for effective language policies.
But as of this month, only the departments of sports and recreation, arts and culture, basic education and higher education and training had reviewed their policies.
Maepa added that South Africa was at risk of losing its indigenous languages in the future, which could affect its people’s identity.
“If we continue at this rate, we will lose our indigenous languages. It is not only the responsibility of departments or PSALB, but of every citizen to ensure our indigenous languages are promoted.
“Once you lose your language you lose your identity. We will end up with a community that is not Setswana or Sesotho, but English in their own country.”