From sphaza to makoya!: a BA degree for court interpreters in South Africa


  • Rosemary Moeketsi University of South Africa (UNISA)
  • Kim Wallmach University of South Africa (UNISA)



court interpreting, interpreter training, distance learning, South Africa


In the past, court interpreters in the South African courts were compelled to serve under judges and magistrates, most of whom were agents of the apartheid system and who were therefore not concerned with the proper training of court interpreters nor encouraged any improvement in their working conditions. The meagre six-week orientation provided by the Justice College, historically the only attempt made to provide any sort of training for court interpreters, has always been ridiculed by court interpreters as a 'sphaza training', meaning insignificant and superficial. The inefficiency of the course can be attributed partly to its brevity, and partly to the lack of insight into the interpreting process which led to the service being misunderstood as a mere process of linguistic transfer from one language to another. Consequently, some interpreters feel justified in declining to take responsiblity for poor performance, claiming 'garbage in, garbage out', meaning that poor training begets poorly qualified, incompetent and unprofessional linguistic service providers. This article is an explication of how the University of South Africa addresses this situation by providing training in court interpreting. This training, embraced by most court interpreters as the makoya, 'the real thing', will hopefully improve the status of the service, renew the self-worth of practitioners and enhance their performance.

Author Biographies

  • Rosemary Moeketsi, University of South Africa (UNISA)
    Rosemary Moeketsi is Director of the School of Language and Literary Studies at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Her doctoral studies and further research in language and law in the South African courts have led directory to the introduction of a BA programme in Court Interpreting at the university. The government's Department of Justice supports this initiative by granting full bursaries to all their court interpreters who wish to study; the first graduates will receive their degrees in May 2005. Professor Moeketsi has addressed many conferences locally and overseas, raising awareness of the plight of court interpreters in South African courts, where eleven languages enjoy official status and many other languages have consitutional rights. Her research output on this topic has influenced discussions and decisions on pertinent issues such as the choice of the most appropriate 'language of record' for the South African courts. Currently she is investigating the language of children in criminal cases of abuse and is also looking at the linguistic role of the court interpreter/mediator in such cases. She is a member of national and international professional associations and sits on the board of Molteno, a non-governmental organization which develops and promotes early literacy.
  • Kim Wallmach, University of South Africa (UNISA)
    Kim Wallmach teaches translation and interpreting at the Department of Linguistics, University of South Africa and is joint director of the BA degree programme in Court Interpreting (established in 2000). She also works as a freelance project manager for simultaneous and consecutive interpreting and translation in the eleven official languages of South Africa. Her current research interests include translation/interpreting and nation-building, interpreting in legal and health contexts, sign-language interpreting and corpus-based interpreting studies. She holds an MA and PhD from the University of Witswatersrand, Johannesburg.






How to Cite

Moeketsi, R., & Wallmach, K. (2005). From sphaza to makoya!: a BA degree for court interpreters in South Africa. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 12(1), 77-108.