The Use of Official Languages Act in South Africa – still slipping up on implementation?

The Use of Official Languages Act was created to ensure fair and equal communication.

It required that all national departments, national public entities and national public enterprises adopt official language policies by 2 November 2014. This is good news for the 11 official languages of South Africa[1] – but is the Act being implemented?

The former government’s language policy is certainly the reason for the predominance of Afrikaans. The results of this are seen as South Africa experiences riots on university campuses. This is for many, a sensitive topic.

As it stands, less than 20 percent of National Departments have a language policy[2]. Part of the reason for this is that The Pan South African Board (PanSALB) had been operating without a board and permanent CEO and that the “staff is not equipped and not adequately skilled to perform their roles and responsibilities and no consequent management are implemented” – the Auditor-General.

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Minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa said he was very concerned about the sluggish enactment of the Use of Official Languages Act: “the development of our languages and the promotion of multilingualism in South Africa needs to be accelerated. The year 2016 must produce tangible results.”

According to Schalkwyk: “This Act could lead to improved communication between government and its citizens, and better service delivery. It also has the potential to address South Africa’s unfortunate legacy of linguistic marginalisation.”

Many people are frustrated at the fact that matters are either conveyed in English or Afrikaans but typically no other language. Cornelius Lourens is a language activist and lawyer and has confronted government on the matter of this polarised communication. He is determined for the South African government to publish all national legislation from 1996 to the present in all 11 official languages. Other advocates agree that its non-use breaches Section 6 of the South African Constitution[3].


Failure to comply with the act was described by Minister Mthethwa as the government failing to implement its own regulations. Lack of adherence would result in audit queries – it will be treated as non-compliance to government legislation and regulations[4].

We should expect the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture to take firm actions against all who are responsible should there be further failure on the fulfillment of this Act.


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