Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 22/09/2023

On 24 September, South Africans will once again celebrate Heritage Day – which was established to give recognition to South Africa’s rich and diverse linguistic, religious and cultural heritage.

It also gives us the opportunity to consider the degree to which the cultural, religious and language rights in the Constitution are being observed in practice.  The FW de Klerk Foundation has accordingly decided to publish a ‘Report Card’ on Cultural, Religious and Language Rights to assess the degree to which we are succeeding in assuring and promoting the rights of our cultural, religious and linguistic communities in accordance with the 15 provisions in the Constitution that deal with these rights.

The Report Card found that:

  • South Africa performed best in terms of “the Right to Freedom of Religions, Belief and Opinion” and “Religious Observance in State or State-Aided Institutions”.
  • It did well with regard to “The Right to use the Language of Choice” and the “Right to Establish and Maintain, at their own Expense, Independent Educational Institutions”.
  • It performed moderately in the observation of “the Right to Participate in, and Enjoy, the Culture of Choice” and “The Right to Self-Determination” (although this right has never been tested).
  • South Africa performed poorly in a majority of CRL Rights, including recognition of “South Africa’s Official Languages”; the “Promotion of Indigenous Languages”; “The Use of Official Languages by National, Provincial and Municipal Governments”; respect for the “Parity of Esteem for all Official Languages”; the efficacy of “the Pan-South African Language Board”; the availability of “Education in the Official Language of Choice in Public Educational Institutions”; and the efficacy of “the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.

The Report Card also identifies the following five principal threats to CRL rights:

  1. The implementation of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill poses a serious threat to the right to education in the language of choice, particularly for speakers of Afrikaans.
  2. The failure of Government and key state institutions to implement the Use of Official Languages Act (UOLA) poses an existential threat to the notion that South Africa has 12 official languages and to the proposition that all official languages should enjoy parity of esteem and should be treated equitably.
  3. The failure to elevate the status and advance the use of indigenous languages threatens the long-term viability of these languages and also the right of speakers of these languages to education in their language of choice and to being served by the Government in languages that they best understand.
  4. The rights to freedom of religion and to form, join and maintain cultural, religious, linguistic organisations could be seriously eroded by the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill and the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill. This is because of the impact that these bills might have on freedom of expression and because they might open the way to intrusive state interference in, and control over, the legitimate activities of religious, cultural and civil society organisations.
  5. The right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of choice, particularly of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, is threatened by the impact of court judgements and political views that propose that languages and cultures can be the bearers of historic guilt.

The Foundation hopes that the Report Card will stimulate debate on the roles that our religions, cultures and languages play – and should play – in promoting our rich and diverse national heritage.

The full Report Card may be found here.

Watch the latest episode of The Constitution@Work podcast, in which Tyla Dallas, FW de Klerk Foundation Manager of Constitutional Programmes, is joined by Foundation Chairman Dave Steward, Legal Officer Ismail Joosub, and Research Intern Liam Erasmus, to discuss the findings of the Report Card.