Hon Chairperson, section 6(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa declares that South Africa has 11 official languages. Subsection 4 goes further to say that government must regulate and monitor the use of these official languages. In addition, section 6(2) of the Constitution gives a directive to the state to say:
Recognising the historically diminished use and status of the indigenous languages of our people, the state must take practical and positive measures to elevate the status and advance the use of these languages. It is in that spirit and for that purpose that the ANC government decided to come up with the Use of Official Languages Bill. The main aim of this Bill is to ensure that all South African languages are treated equally when it comes to government purposes.
The Use of Official Languages Bill has the following key objectives: to regulate and monitor the use of official languages by the national government for government purposes; to require the adoption of a language policy by a national department, national public entity and national public enterprise; to provide for the establishment and functions of a National Language Unit; and to facilitate the intergovernmental co-ordination of language units.
Clause 9(1) of the Bill empowers the Minister to monitor the use of official languages by the national government for government purposes. According to Clause 7 of the Bill, the Minister has the power to exempt, by notice in the Gazette, a national public entity or national public enterprise from establishing a language unit. If a department, an entity or enterprise is exempted from establishing a language unit, the Minister must assign a senior employee to perform the functions of a language unit. Clause 4(2)(f) of the Bill provides for the establishment of a complaints mechanism or ombudsman to deal with complaints by members of the public on the use of official languages.
It is crucial to indicate that this will be the first-ever Language Act to be promulgated in the history of South Africa, and it is without any doubt a breakthrough for all official languages and, in particular, indigenous languages of historically diminished use and status. In the main, the Bill seeks to ensure that the citizens of South Africa receive communication services in their first language - the languages they understand best - and this is another way of improving service delivery for the people of South Africa.
After tabling the Use of Official Languages Bill before the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture on 07 November 2011, the Department of Arts and Culture accordingly tabled the Bill to the Select Committee on Education and Recreation on 15 August 2012. The Select Committee on Education and Recreation, having considered the Bill, tabled in terms of section 231(2) of the Constitution, Act 108 of 1996, recommends that the House approves the Bill.
Bill accordingly agreed to in accordance with section 75 of the Constitution.