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Durban's chief magistrate, Thamsanqa Mabaso, said a Scottburgh magistrate who held court proceedings in isiZulu on Wednesday would be commended by those who were proud of the language, the Mercury newspaper reported yesterday.
Magistrate Themba Ndlovu was presiding over the case of an Austrian footballer who was killed on a golf course on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast in November last year .
Peter Burgstaller, 43, was robbed and shot on the Selbourne Golf Estate in Pennington. He was in South Africa to meet Fifa delegates.
On Wednesday, before the Burgstaller case, Ndlovu addressed and questioned the accused in five individual cases in isiZulu.
An interpreter was present at the court but failed to do any interpreting into English.
The state prosecutor - who refused to give his name - told reporters that the only reason Ndlovu addressed the court in isiZulu was because all of the accused were isiZulu speakers.
At least 10 people in the court were non-Zulu speakers, including two court orderlies.
After reporters raised concerns about the language issue, the magistrate said he would not apologise because isiZulu was one of the official languages.
Mabaso said that the issue had been debated by magistrates and judges for several years.
While the Magistrate's Act deemed English and Afrikaans the official "court" languages, the Constitution named 11 official languages, and also stated that indigenous languages must be promoted.
"It is a big problem and not an easy one," said Mabaso.
"I attended a seminar of judges where one judge president said he conducted proceedings in isiXhosa if the accused, the witness and the attorneys were all isi-Xhosa speaking."
Asked why, if magistrates and judges felt strongly about the issue, had they not challenged the act in the Constitutional Court, Mabaso said: "I think they are conditioned to the use of English and Afrikaans."
He said the law only dictated that parties to litigation had to understand proceedings, so interpretation was not necessary for members of the public and the media.
Deputy director of the secretariat of the magistrate's commission, Matthew Mfundisi, said it was an issue that needed further debate.
The case against the two Msani brothers accused of killing Burgstaller was postponed to Thursday. - Sapa