Recognition of language rights in South Africa: innovation or dismal failure?

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa recognizes 11 languages as official languages for government purposes. This means that these languages must be used by government to communicate with the public, enact legislation and use within its courts. Although this gives significant recognition to indigenous languages, most of these languages are rarely used by government in practice. The purpose of the paper is to investigate the legislative provisions and case law regarding governmental use of official languages in South Africa and to assess if this approach is followed in practice within the government and other organs of state. Ultimately the paper will conclude that the current legislation pays mere lip-service to the recognition of all South Africa’s indigenous languages and that this (initially) innovative approach has become a dismal failure with regard to protection and promotion of language rights, and ultimately human dignity, in South Africa.