By Nosipho Singiswa
Each year the government releases policies that will affect the lives of many people in South Africa.
These policies are released in English first and foremost never mind the fact that in South Africa we have 11 official languages.
English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial spaces, but only the fifth most spoken home language in the country.
Now what puzzles me is the fact that our government will take a longer time to translate policy documents to other languages yet our Constitution recognises 11 official languages, to which the state guarantees equal status.
For the past two years, I have been working in the fisheries industry.
During this time, I have noticed a trend with the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries.
The department will release Policies for public comment only in English, say documents are available in Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu (while they are not) and give 30 days for the public to comment.
The translated documents will e available weeks after or when the department holds public consultation meetings.
Now, bear in mind that the biggest group of small-scale fishers are Afrikaans speaking, followed by Xhosa and Zulu speakers. Why then would the department release polices only in English and not make sure that the majority language spoken by their stakeholder is immediately available?
I find it concerning that a government department will not put their majority stakeholders at the forefront.
I mean, when releasing a document you must surely go to great lengths to ensure that the people you are meant to serve fully understand the contents of such a document.
For example, on the 12 of June the Department Gazetted the Draft Fisheries Sector Specific policies only in English. On the document, the phrase “This document is also available in Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu” was written, but until today one cannot find the translated versions.
I called the Fisheries Rights Allocation Process call centre today and the lady who attended to me told me these will be available probably next week “Please check in on Monday” she said, not knowing when exactly these will available.
Note that comments are supposed to be in by 12 July.
I am left puzzled by this fact. I am puzzled because I thought a public participation process should be effective in its nature. I also understand that a public participation process should make that which needs to be known by the public inclusive, accessible and it should be done in a timely manner.
Now, why is the government which is supposed to be working for the people not doing this?
As an information officer of an organisation- I am sitting with the dilemma of saying to our stakeholders, “no mam or no sir, the department has not indicated when it will have the translated documents ready”.
This is not the first time this is happening, we experienced it with the Small-Scale Fisheries Policy, with the Draft Regulations relating to Small-Scale Fishing and now again with the recent document.
Section 195 (1)(e) of the Constitution states that “people’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policymaking” , yet this is not happening.
Could this be a plague within our government system? Or is this only happening within the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries?
No matter what it is, I find it unacceptable and disrespectful to those who need to know, understand and respond to these policies.