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South Africa considers a 12th official language

7 Sep 2020

The Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee is considering recognising South African Sign Language as the 12th official language.

Deputy minister in the Presidency Department of Women Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize, said parliament was considering amending Section 30 of the Constitution and the National Official Languages.

“I want to emphasise that South African Sign Language is a right and not a privilege, and is a language of the first line of commutation for deaf people.

“The strengthening of inter-sectoral collaboration between the government and the deaf community will make South Africa one of the countries that provide for deaf people’s communication mode in their own local language,” the deputy minister said.

She was in Pretoria on Friday, addressing the launch of the South African Sign Language Charter, which was conceptualised to address issues that relate to communication, access to information, facilities, and social justice for the deaf community, including the type of service provided by South African Sign Language interpreters in general.

The charter articulates and affirms the linguistic rights of deaf people in South Africa and is aimed at creating conditions for the development of South African Sign Language.

This September marks 62 years of the celebration of the International Month for the Deaf, as declared by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD).

As part of commemorating this historic milestone, the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) launched the South African Sign Language Charter.

This charter seeks to promote recognition of the South African Sign Language as an official language to be included in Sub-Section 6 (1) of the Constitution, Act 108 of 1996, and be adopted in terms of Section 234 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996.

“The Association of Deaf People has lodged a long, hard struggle to get South African Sing Language to be recognised by government in all its sectors and society at large.

“It is therefore important to consider the legislating and regulating South African Sign Language by declaring it the 12th official language for the country.

“This will be available on request or on-demand to assist the deaf community to access services, information, public institutions and education with ease and in the language that they understand,” Mkhize said.

The charter has considered the following aspects for instance:

  • Recognition of South African Sign Language as the 12th official language, deaf awareness activities for the South African public, promotion of deaf culture, access to all services and facilities by deaf people, the inclusion of South African Sign Language into the curriculum of all educational level and professionalisation of South African Sign Language.
  • Close captioning, sub-titles and South African Sign Language go hand in hand and the same applies to lip reading, relay interpretation and non-academic hand signs that are most prevalent in the township and rural areas.

“These services are necessary to teach young deaf children and to promote literacy of South African Sign Language to the deaf community in South Africa. My department is currently negotiating with the SABC to ensure that South African Sign Language is provided for on television,” the Deputy Minister said.

PanSALB Board Chairperson, Dr David Maahlamela, said the launch of the charter is a huge step towards ensuring the officialisation of South African Sign Language as the 12th South African official language.

“The SASL Charter is premised on the ‘nothing about us without us’ disability movement. It is a product of years of extensive consultation with the deaf community that has culminated to this call to action for our government and civil society to rally together, and pledge their commitment to the principles of multilingualism and social cohesion that underpin the provisions of this Charter,” said Maahlamela said.

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