Home South African Sign language edging closer to being South Africa’s 12th official language

Sign language edging closer to being South Africa’s 12th official language

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Justice department hoping recognition of sign language will lead to the cultural acceptance of sign language and deaf culture.

Sign language interpreter Nicoline du Toit at the official Launch of 2019 National and Provincial elections in Midrand North of Johannesburg.Pictuure: Simphiwe Mbokazi African News Agency (ANA).

Justice department hoping recognition of sign language will lead to the cultural acceptance of sign language and deaf culture.

Sign language is a step closer to being recognised as South Africa’s 12th official language.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola on Tuesday published the constitutional amendment that will pave the way for sign language to be official. This followed the Cabinet’s decision in May to accept the 2017 recommendation by Parliament’s constitutional review committee that South African Sign Language should be added as the country’s 12th official language.

Lamola’s department said it hoped the recognition of South African Sign Language as an official language would result in the cultural acceptance of sign language and the deaf culture.

It said the amendment was a step towards realising the rights of persons with hearing disabilities to equal enjoyment of rights and human dignity.

Should the amendments be promulgated, the Constitution will state its commitment to promote and create conditions for the development and use of all official languages as well as the Khoi, Nama and San languages, which are not yet official languages.

South Africa’s 11 official languages are, at present, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Swati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Xhosa and Zulu.

The Department of Basic Education already recognises South African Sign Language as a home language.

According to Lamola, the purpose of the Eighteenth Constitution Amendment Bill 2022 is to amend section 6 of the Constitution to provide for the recognition of South African Sign Language as an official language.

The Pan South African Language Board is empowered to promote and create conditions for the development and use of, among others, sign language.

”Persons with hearing disabilities continue to experience high levels of marginalisation and exclusion due to social, psychological and structural challenges,” reads the background note to the amendment.

The department said persons with hearing disabilities’ experiences of marginalisation and exclusion occur in social circles, at work, in schools, at places of worship and at many leisure, cultural and sports events.

”The challenges exist for different reasons, including a general lack of understanding of deaf culture, the lack of South African Sign Language proficiency and the availability of professional sign language interpreters,” the department said.

This limits the social participation and integration of deaf persons in society and impacts on their right to freedom of speech, which amounts to disability discrimination.

“The deaf community will finally have a voice and become an integral part of their own country and communities. It will promote inclusion, substantive equality and prevent or eliminate unfair discrimination on the ground of disability,” the department said.

“Effect will also be given to the right to equality in terms of section 9 of the Constitution, which includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms.”

Interested parties have until Wednesday, August 31 to submit their comments on the proposed amendment.

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