News: South African Government Websites Fail Basic Language Standards

September 13, 2016

VisibleThread, a language and content auditing company with regional offices in the U.S., Europe and Australia, reports that South African government websites fail to meet plain writing standards. The company's Website Clarity Index analysis focused on 30-plus Provincial Government websites from the most populous provinces: Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal and the Western Cape.


Fergal McGovern, CEO of VisibleThread said in a blog post: "In a country where the language of government is a second language for many of its citizens, poor communication will result in inefficiency and affect service delivery."


South Africa has 11 official languages and although most South Africans can speak more than one language, English is only the fourth most spoken language. IsiZulu, IsiXhosa and Afrikaans all have more first language speakers. (Source:


VisibleThread found that only 13% of Provincial Government websites meet recommended readability standards and some fail so badly that they warrant a complete overhaul. They stated that the writing on most of these websites is at or above a college reading level - above the capabilities of a majority of South Africa's citizens.

VisibleThread's index ranks the clarity of provincial website writing on four distinct measures:

  1. Readability - How readable is the content? A score of 50 or above is ideal.
  2. Passive Language - Active language communicates clearly. What proportion of sentences are passive? 4% or less is ideal.
  3. Long Sentences - What proportion of all sentences are too long? 5% or less across all content is ideal.
  4. Word Complexity Density - Complex words make web pages hard to understand, a lower score is better.

gpi-south africa websites-1

Image: South Africa Regional Government Quality Index. A snapshot sourced from VisibileThread Clarity Index South Africa Government 2016


In their executive summary, VisibleThread reiterated that the basis of civilization and government is anchored in writing. Yet, of all forms of communication, it has some of the greatest shortcomings. They noted that, when communication is poor, the cost of government increases and service delivery programs fail.


While this has prompted many governments internationally to have clear language policies to simplify communications, the South African government does not have a mandated plain language policy, to the detriment of its citizens.

You can download the full VisibleThread report SA Provincial Government Clarity Index here.

Further Resources from GPI


Globalization Partners International (GPI) has developed a suite of globalization tools to achieve internationalization and many of the goals listed in this blog. You can explore them under the Tools sections of our Translation Services. GPI also offers internationalization and globalization consulting services and can evaluate your application. Partnering with GPI before you localize or translate your application will ensure that you avoid many mistakes and will also save you considerable time and money on your localization projects.


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Country Specific
South Africa, South Africa websites, South African government websites

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Daniela has over 16 years' experience in the translation, localization and language instruction professions. She holds a degree in Sworn, Literary, Technical, and Scientific Translation from the Instituto Nacional de Enseñanza Superior Olga Cossettini in Rosario, Argentina. Starting her career as a translator for English-Spanish/Spanish-English in 1990 over the years she has worked for several Localization Agencies as a translator, assistant project manager and senior project manager. She has completed a wide range of professional certifications in document and website localization with emphasis on translation, budgeting, quality control and project management including The Localization Institute’s Triple Certification in Localization Project Management (Localization Institute Chico, CA, USA). She has managed a wide variety of document, website, software and audio-video localization projects utilizing different Translation Management Systems (TMS), Translation Memory (TM) and I18n and L10n tool suites.