The role the official languages should play in South Africa is already stipulated in the constitution of the Republic of South Africa.



(1) The official languages of the Republic are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans,  English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

    (2) 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.

     (a) The national government and provincial governments may use any particular official languages for the purposes of government, taking into account usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances and the balance of the needs and preferences of the population as a whole or in the province concerned; but the national government and each provincial government must use at least two official languages.
        (b) Municipalities must take into account the language usage and preferences of their residents.

    (4) The national government and provincial governments, by legislative and other measures, must regulate and monitor their use of official languages. Without detracting from the provisions of subsection (2), all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably.

    (5) A Pan South African Language Board established by national legislation must—
        (a) promote, and create conditions for, the development and use of—
        (i) all official languages;
        (ii) the Khoi, Nama and San languages; and
        (iii) sign language ; and
        (b) promote and ensure respect for—
        (i) all languages commonly used by communities in South Africa, including German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu; and
        (ii) Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and other languages used for religious purposes in South Africa.



(1) Everyone has the right—
        (a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and
        (b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.

    (2) Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable. In order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of, this right, the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single medium institutions, taking into account—
        (a) equity;
        (b) practicability; and
        (c) the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.

    (3) Everyone has the right to establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational institutions that—
        (a) do not discriminate on the basis of race;
        (b) are registered with the state; and
        (c) maintain standards that are not inferior to standards at comparable public educational institutions.

    (4) Subsection (3) does not preclude state subsidies for independent educational institutions.

Language and culture

30. Everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice, but no one exercising these rights may do so in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights.

Cultural, religious and linguistic communities

    (1) Persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community—
        (a) to enjoy their culture, practice their religion and use their language; and
        (b) to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society.

    (2) The rights in subsection (1) may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights

Arrested, detained and accused persons


    (3) Every accused person has a right to a fair trial, which includes the right—

        (k) to be tried in a language that the accused person understands or, if that is not practicable, to have the proceedings interpreted in that language;

    (4) Whenever this section requires information to be given to a person, that information must be given in a language that the person understands.

From: T
he Constitution of the Republic of South Africa

In addition to the constitution the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) was founded to "provide for the recognition, implementation and furtherance of multilingualism in the Republic of South Africa; and the development of previously marginalised languages" 

(Pan South African Language Board Act 59, 1995).

Also see: Education & Media

© J. Olivier (2009)