Newspaper clipping – The Mercury – 17 March 2010

Language ruling hailed as a victory

The national government had neglected its duty to regulate and monitor the use of official languages by means of legislative and other measures in terms of the constitution, the Pretoria High Court found yesterday.

The Minister of Arts and Culture, in her capacity as responsible cabinet minister, must comply with the stated obligation within two years following yesterday’s ruling by Judge Ben du Plessis.

The application was brought by Brits attorney Cerneels Lourens to force the government to honour its constitutional duty towards South Africa’s official languages.

The judgment was hailed by Lourens as a victory. Acting CEO of the Pan South African Language Board, Chris Swepu, welcomed the ruling. Swepu said such an act would assist the board in monitoring the government’s language policy.
“It will also force respect for our constitution with regards to respect for all languages,” he said.

Lourens said the effect was that the government would have to implement a language policy.
“It will have to be done by means of legislation and it will have to be implemented.”

He said although the judge did not concede to his application to order Parliament that all legislation should be published in the official languages, the judge did agree that it was the national government’s duty to do it.
“The fact that he agreed with me is in itself a victory,” Lourens said.

He said that translations would have to be handled at a later stage in the national language legislation. Lourens said if the government wanted to appeal against yesterday’s ruling, he was ready to meet it in the Constitutional Court.

He said that as things stood, all other languages stood back for English – the language used officially by the government. All in all, he said, the government had neglected to adhere to its constitutional language obligations. The court heard that the government, following the new dispensation, had worked towards a national language plan for the country, but that not much had come of it. At present, the government did not have a co-ordinated language policy in place, regulating and monitoring the use of its official languages.

Judge du Plessis said that while the government had not complied with it duties in this regard, it was fitting that he place it on terms to comply within a certain time frame – two years, in this case.

Delivering the judgment in Afrikaans, the judge said an English ruling would be insensitive towards Lourens in light of the rights he was trying to protect. Judge du Plessis said the country had 11 official languages, which meant that officials in the government could be addressed in any of those languages