South Africa Fulfills Promise, Votes “No” on OOXML

Karl Best of Kavi sent me a link this morning to another national body voting report, this time from South Africa.  According to a blog post at  by James Archibald, the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has voted 13 to 4 not to approve Ecma 376/OOXML.  The blog identifies SABS member Yvonne Ndhlovu as the project leader for the local leg of the process, and the source of the infomation.  The more detailed tally of the vote, according to Ndholovu, 2 votes of yes, with comments; 2 votes of yes, without comments; and 13 votes of no, with comments.  No information is given as to the nature of the comments, or the likelihood that the comments relating to the no votes would be capable, or likely to be accommodated in a later step of the process

The blog entry goes on to state: 

A source close to the voting process speculated that Microsoft might still attempt to cripple the process bureaucratically before the vote is taken internationally in September.  Ndhlovu added that the comments were being collated and would become available in about three weeks.  Potlaki Maine, Microsoft's South African technical officer was unavailable for comment as he was out of the country.

The apparent decisiveness of this particular National Body vote is less of a surprise than might otherwise be the case, given that South Africa is one of the nations that has experienced a stormy experience with document formats in the past.  As I reported back in February, the SABS warned that if harrassed by proprietary proponents of standards, it would no longer abstain in voting, but would vote against the standard in question.  The following is the verbatim text of a protest that the SABS filed with ISO/IEC JTC1 on February 20, 2007 (National Body Contribution ISO/IEC JTC 1 N 8494, titled South Africa Comments on the PAS Process):

South Africa is concerned about what seems to be a growing number of standards submitted under the PAS process that, although publically [sic] available, do not seem to have any measure of regional or even national consensus. These therefore tend not to have been referred to any of the JTC 1 sub-committees, and have obviously not been discussed at [sub-committee] level. 

Our experience is that the result of this is then a round of intense lobbying by various other stakeholders for us to vote negatively on the PAS. Often these other groups take the trouble to compile a list of contradictions that are also widely distributed in order to justify the request for the negative vote.


A recent example is the proposed PAS on Open XML/ODF.


It is our opinion that the submission of such “standards” directly to JTC 1 via the PAS route, where the standard has not been discussed within the relevant SC, was never the intention of the PAS System. The fact that some consortium has published a document that they refer to as a standard does not automatically imply that it has any sort of widespread industry acceptance. The fact that the publisher might claim international usage or acceptance is not longer a valid reason in these days of large multinationals, and the SABS [South African Bureau of Standards] has previously been approached by local branches of multinationals to vote in support of such PAS submissions, even if we have no local industry involvement or membership in the appropriate JTC 1 SC.


As result of this, South Africa will tend to vote negatively on all future PAS submissions to JTC 1 where they have not been appropriate SC. We would like to ensure that proper consideration be given to the PAS by technical experts. If the standard is indeed well known within the industry then this process might be very short.


This will be a change from our previous tendency to ‘abstain’ where we had no direct knowledge of the submission. 

Whether or not this will be the only vote with a possible “backlash” factor should become clear soon.  Meanwhile, I will look forward to further news and details from South Africa.

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