In 2009, an Indigenous Court pilot, was rolled out at the Atteridgeville Magistrate Court, where I was stationed. It was basically a trial for the use of indigenous languages for court cases and included everyone, right down to the Magistrate and Prosecutor. With Setswana, Sepedi and Sesotho being the predominantly used Indigenous languages in Pretoria, these were the languages used for the pilot.
Many court officials moaned about it, thinking it a waste of time and an unnecessary endeavour as courts have interpreters. I must admit, I was from the onset fascinated with the idea, however I was very concerned as one of the consequences of apartheid was that our indigenous languages had not been developed for discourse in matters of litigation. However, the court officials involved in this process, were very impressive. Annexures were written in the relevant languages and the magistrate and prosecutor who handled that court put in extra effort to make the endeavour a success. They constantly read up and spoke to people knowledgeable in indigenous languages, to ensure that they were fully prepared for court. Initially, we only used the simplest cases for this project, as a means of preventing rulings from being overturned.
The more I watched court proceedings, was the more I felt that the Indigenous Court had the potential of being a wonderful way of bringing justice closer to the people. This is because despite having interpreters, many of our people find it difficult to follow court proceedings, due to language barriers. Another benefit of this court is that, it saves the state a lot of money. The postponement of trials costs the state and many times, courts have to be postponed due to the unavailability of interpreters. By establishing the Indigenous Courts as part of the justice system, this can be avoided in some cases, which will assist in the prevention of the postponement of many cases. Also, the establishment of these courts, would ensure that our languages are further developed in more fields, as it would have to go beyond the courts.
As such, I hope that the Indigenous Court will continue and eventually become successfully established within our judiciary. It is a beautiful way of preserving indigenous cultures, as language is a part of culture and as such, the development of our languages is a part of ensuring the continuity of our culture. The establishment of this court would also mean less state expenditure, creating more money for other- more urgent state matters. Over and above that, the establishment of this court would ensure that justice is never withheld from anyone irrespective of race, class and level of education, because being unable to follow court proceedings due to languages comes down to a failure in efficient administration of justice…