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Language board to challenge court on its refusal to allow Jacob Zuma's lawyer to speak isiZulu

22 May 2019 - 12:38 By NIVASHNI NAIR
Jacob Zuma's advocate, Muzi Sikhakhane, had planned to deliver his 10-minute opening address in isiZulu, but was told it was against court policy.
Jacob Zuma's advocate, Muzi Sikhakhane, had planned to deliver his 10-minute opening address in isiZulu, but was told it was against court policy.
Image: Jackie Clausen

The Pan South African Language Board (PanSalb) will pursue a meeting with chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to object to "the continuous assault and discrimination" against  indigenous languages.

This after former president Jacob Zuma's lawyer was not allowed to deliver his 10-minute opening address in isiZulu on Monday.

The board on Wednesday said the Pietermaritzburg High Court demonstrated the continued ostracism of historically marginalised South African official languages by the court of law when it refused advocate Muzi Sikhakhane the right to address it in isiZulu.

"The assault on historically marginalised South African indigenous official languages received a boost from an apparent resolution which was passed in a Heads of Courts meeting held in October 2014 that the language of record for courts should be English. A report went further to state that the resolution was reaffirmed in a recent Heads of Courts meeting held on March 31 2017," the board said.

Sikhakhane had planned to deliver his opening address in Zuma's application for a permanent stay of prosecution in isiZulu, but was told in judge's chambers on Monday morning that he would have to speak English.

"The court had agreed that I would do the opening in isiZulu, but I was then informed that I could not do so due to a policy from the chief justice," he told TimesLIVE.

Sikhakhane was unaware of PanSalb's decision to take up his matter. However, he was "happy that it had decided to challenge the policy".

"I am happy, but not just for this matter. I would be happy if they would start forcing our courts and every institution to respect African people and their languages. I would love anyone to challenge whoever, from the chief justice to the president, down to every department, about people and their language and culture," he said.

The board's chief executive officer, Dr Rakwena Monareng, said he had been trying for years to speak to the justice system about its exclusion of the nine marginalised South African official languages: Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.        

"Since 2017, in my capacity as the chief executive officer of PanSALB, I have been trying to seek a discussion with the Heads of Courts about this resolution, without any success," he said.

The board said there was a constitutional obligation on the state to take practical and positive measures to elevate the status of and advance the use of the nine languages.

"Considering these obligations and also that the Use of Official Languages Act (Act No. 12 of 2012), in essence, fosters multilingualism within working spaces and beyond, in the spirit of social cohesion and nation building, which is being currently undermined by our courts."

The office of the chief justice had not responded to queries at the time of publishing.