Official languages case dismissed
Cape Town - A legal bid to have legislation published in all official languages was dismissed by the Equality Court in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Afrikaans-speaking attorney Cornelius Lourens, from Brits in North West, contended in his application that he was being unfairly discriminated against on the basis of language, according to the Equality Act.
He argued that because national legislation promulgated by Parliament was not published in all official languages, it undermined the status of the other languages and elevated English to a “super” official language.
The respondents are National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, and the Pan SA Language Board.
The court disagreed with Lourens.
“There is no constitutional or statutory obligation duty on any of the respondents to publish all national legislation in all official languages, nor to translate any legislation into all official languages,” Judge Bennie Griesel said in his judgment.
He found the extent of discrimination was fair as contemplated by the Equality Act.
“... this matter cannot be decided on emotion, no matter how deep-rooted.”
He said the answer had to be sought in the Constitution, which recognised the official languages.
One constitutional provision was that national and provincial government could use any of the languages for their purpose, taking into account usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances, and the balance of the needs of the population as a whole.
The Constitution further states that the national and provincial government should use at least two official languages.
The joint rules of Parliament dictate that the official text of a bill has to be in one of the official languages and translated into at least one other official language.
AfriForum supported the case because of its support of language rights, particularly Afrikaans.
“Translations of acts into the nine languages in which they were not published have no official status,” said AfriForum deputy language CEO Alana Bailey.
“Therefore if one were to base a legal argument on such a translation containing a wrong interpretation or translation, you would have no legal defence.”
After the judgment, Bailey said they intended to appeal if possible.
“The case was prepared in great detail to ensure that we would be prepared for an appeal whatever the outcome, even to international level.”