Getrude Makhafola and Sapa
Proceedings in a North West court were yesterday conducted in Setswana, making it the first time a language other than English or Afrikaans has been used in the court.
"The proceedings at Lehurutshe mark a first step in rolling out similar initiatives to other courts in the province," said regional head of the department of justice and constitutional development, Tsietsi Malema.
Court proceedings were usually heard in African languages, then translated into English or Afrikaans, the department said.
Earlier this month in Secunda, Mpumalanga, a lawyer addressed a dumbfounded court in Sepedi.
Advocate Mphafolane Koma was representing relatives of the six people who died in an explosion at Secunda's Sasol plant.
That came after the Sasol lawyers addressed the court in Afrikaans.
Koma said he had told the court that he did not understand Afrikaans, and that his request to be addressed in English "fell on deaf ears", with the magistrate insisting an interpreter would be available at a later stage.
The justice department in the North West said yesterday's proceedings in Setswana was to give effect to a 2003 cabinet resolution to develop and promote equality among all South African languages.
"We have already identified other similar sites in the province, all that we are waiting for is to see how the Lehurutshe project unfolds," said chief magistrate Johanna Ikaneng.
Spokesman for the national department, Zolile Nqayi, said the ministry had taken the decision to use all languages in courts.
"There is also one court in KwaZulu-Natal that uses isiZulu in all court proceedings," Nqayi said.