The use of Afrikaans – a West Germanic language – in South African courts has been abolished. English is now the official language of record in all courts in the Republic of South Africa.
This development was announced by Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe in a message saying: “Kindly ensure that there is compliance with this resolution in all courts in the Western Cape with immediate effect.” Hlophe also revealed in the said message that resolution on the abolition of Afrikaans in courts was passed several years ago and that “the chief justice has already notified the minister of justice accordingly”. It was gathered that the office of the Chief Justice – Mogoeng Mogoeng – has confirmed this decision. Nathi Mncube buttressed that it was resolved that the language of record should be English at the heads of court meeting.
This resolution was taken recognizing that English has become the general language of usage nationally and internationally and to ensure effective communication. It is the expectation of the heads of courts that all judges president will implement the resolution,” Mncube said.
Meanwhile, the resolution has since attracted criticism from AfriForum and the Pan South African Language Board. According to Afriforum’s Alana Bailey, the civil-rights organization may likely challenge the heads of courts’ decision because the resolution apparently affects most Afrikaners. Alana Bailey Afriforum believes that the move contravened the constitution, the Justice Department’s language policy passed in 2016, which recognizes three official languages nationally as well as the languages spoken regionally.
In 2016, a survey conducted by the Legal Aid South Africa found that 63.2% of people who applied for legal aid in criminal matters had at least a satisfactory understanding of English. The survey also found marked provincial differences in the ability to understand English. For instance, in the Eastern Cape, 56.4% of legal aid applicants were not comfortable in the language, followed by the Northern Cape (42.6%) and KwaZulu-Natal (41%). In Gauteng, 75.5% of applicants were able to understand English and 71.6% were able to speak English at a satisfactory level.
More than half of the applicants in criminal matters in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Northern Cape admitted that their English literacy levels were poor.