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November 6, 2002

Cape Town to become fully trilingual

From: Independent Online, South Africa
Nov. 6, 2002

By Eric Ntabazalila

The City of Cape Town's executive committee has adopted a language policy that will promote and monitor the usage of Afrikaans, Xhosa and English as three official languages and end the dominance of English over the other two languages.

The move is expected to promote equal access to municipal services and programmes by removing existing communication barriers.

Almost half (45 percent) of the population of the Western Cape speak Afrikaans, 37 percent speak Xhosa and 18 percent speak English.

A full council meeting on November 15 is expected to approve the policy which will then make it a requirement by law for the three languages to be used officially.

This will see Cape Town become the first local government in South Africa with a policy that promotes multilingualism and equal status for Afrikaans, Xhosa and English.

But the biggest winner of the policy is sign language, which does not enjoy any status at present. South Africa's 11 official languages do not include sign language but provincial language policy requires that it be provided when necessary.

Sign language teacher Armad Kleinschmidt welcomed the policy, saying it would help the efforts of the Deaf Federation of South Africa (Deafsa) to have sign language recognised as the 12th official language.

"The important part of the policy is the implementation, and it is important for the city to work with deaf people through Deafsa. Attempts have been made to make sign language an official language but without success. We would like this policy to be extended nationally," he said.

Councillors and officials will be trained in developing their language skills so they can communicate in the three languages.

Deputy mayor David Erleigh who is the executive councillor responsible for corporate services said: "The city is committed to find practical and affordable ways of engaging with its customers in the language of their choice.

"The policy provides simple, user friendly guidelines aimed at promoting public participation, communication and service delivery. We will start implementing once council approves it," he said.

He added that for street names, the community's language usage and preferences would be duly considered and that municipal signage and directions at offices and council facilities will be in the three official languages.

The city has to make provision for interpreting services in the three official languages during sittings of council, subcouncils and committees.

All policies introduced and adopted, by-laws and resolutions of the council and its committees must also be available in the three languages.

Motions or formal motions and recommendations to all reports must also be made available in the three official languages.

The policy says the city must ensure that councillors and staff are sensitised to the value of multilingualism as a tool of building social cohesion, promoting economic development and consolidating democratic government through respect for cultural diversity.

A multiparty adhoc committee consisting of two Afrikaans, two Xhosa and two English-speaking councillors will monitor the use of the three languages and, among other responsibilities, prevent the use of any language for exploitation and domination.

The policy requires the city to put aside a budget for language planning and training, for the language policy development and implementation, language resources and language audits in order to meet obligations of the policy.

©2002. Independent News & Media.