Transpreters? translations of complainants? narratives as evidence: whose version goes to court?

01 Aug 2016

Law and language are inherently related and, as such, the efficient functioning of the law has a direct bearing on the appropriate use of language. Sworn statements, taken from members of the public, initiate the court process, and their role culminates in court, as evidence for proceedings. Existing data relating to oral narratives in isiXhosa and translated versions presented in English, in the form of sworn statements, show differences and inconsistencies between the two sets of texts. Such statements are supposed to be a true reflection of the complainant?s or suspect?s own words. However, more often than not, they tend to be the written versions of information obtained by the police officers? (hereafter referred to as transpreters) during the pre-statement-taking session. This article examines the oral narratives of complainants, which are framed in a form of dialogue between the transpreters and the complainants. The ?retelling and rewriting? of such narratives into sworn statements by transpreters, as a form of translation, is primarily taken into account. Scrutinising pre-statement-taking sessions and translated English versions of sworn statements, the article argues that such sworn statements constitute a misrepresentation of the complainants? own words. As a result, the complainants? actual evidence is manipulated, so that it fails to fully surface in court ? as an essential part of court proceedings ? in its original form. The effect of these practices, it is further argued, has serious implications for the notion of access to justice in South Africa.