Department of Correctional Services undermines Employee's Language Rights
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES UNDERMINES EMPLOYEE’S LANGUAGE RIGHTS
Adv Jacques du Preez, FW de Klerk Foundation
The FW de Klerk Foundation strongly condemns the conduct of the Department of Correctional Services (the Department), which undermines the language rights of one of its employees in the Western Cape.
According to media reports, the Department informed Wynand Heyns a month ago that he (Heyns) did not qualify for a promotion-related increase because his departmental documentation was completed in Afrikaans. Because Mr Heyns insisted on completing his annual performance appraisal in Afrikaans, he could be negatively affected in terms of salary and benefits. If this situation continues, it means that Heyns won’t receive the prescribed 3% basic salary adjustment - which he is entitled to - every two years.
A departmental spokesperson, Simphiwe Xabo, officially confirmed that the Department’s language of communication is English, and that “it would be an administrative impossibility for every official to complete their performance appraisal documents in the language of their choice”.
The Constitution is very clear about language rights and expressly prohibits unfair discrimination on grounds of language in sections 9(1) and 9(3). Section 6(1) of the Bill of Rights entrenches South Africa’s 11 official languages - of which Afrikaans is one - and section 6(4) of the Bill states that all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably.
The conduct and policy of the Department is also not legal in terms of the proposed Use of Official Languages Act, which has been adopted by Parliament. This Act is applicable to, inter alia, the Department of Correctional Services. Sections 4(1) and 4(2) of the Act instruct national departments to draw up a language policy with regard to that department’s use of official languages. In addition, that language policy must comply with section 6(3) of the Constitution and must identify at least three official languages that the department can use for official purposes.
In this respect the proposed Use of Official Languages Act’s stipulations are not discretionary: a Language Policy must identify at least three official languages for official use. For that reason, the Department’s excuse that it would be an administrative impossibility is unacceptable. The Department will be legally compelled to do this.
What makes the Department’s conduct even more incomprehensible is the fact that this specifically happened in the Western Cape - where Afrikaans is one of the three official languages of the provincial government, and also the majority language in the province - including in the province’s correctional facilities.
Over and above the general discriminatory nature of the Department’s conduct, the broader rationale of the Department’s conduct in this regard needs to be questioned - when more that 55% of the Western Cape’s population speak Afrikaans, 23.7% speak Xhosa and 19.3% speak English.
In light of the fact that the Department of Correctional Services is already involved in court proceedings dealing with alleged racial discrimination against their coloured and white employees - specifically in the Western Cape - and in connection with the Department’s employment equity plan and policy, this additional discriminatory conduct by the department should be opposed from not only a practical viewpoint, but from a constitutional viewpoint as well.
Published in: FW de Klerk Foundation