Cape Town - The much-celebrated and long-awaited day finally arrived when President Cyril Ramaphosa officially signed Sign Language (SASL), into law, making it the 12th official language.
Ramaphosa signed the SASL Bill during a ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria yesterday, with activists and organisations working to promote Deaf community inclusion and sign language in attendance.
South Africa has now joined Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda, making it the fourth country on the African continent to recognise sign language as an official language.
Last year, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services published the draft Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill, 2022, (the bill) for comment.
The bill’s purpose was to amend Section 6 of the Constitution, 1996, so as to include SASL as an official language.
The bill was passed by the National Assembly during its plenary on Tuesday, May 2, with 306 votes in favour, no abstentions and no votes against it.
When the call for public comment was placed, the portfolio committee on justice and constitutional development received 58 written submissions from individuals and organisations, with the majority supporting the bill.
The presidency said in a statement that the new legislation sought to advance the cultural acceptance of SASL; ensure the realisation of the rights of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing to equal protection and benefit of the law and human dignity; and to promote inclusive and substantive equality and prevent or eliminate unfair discrimination on the grounds of disability, as guaranteed by Section 9 of the Constitution.
“To mark the historic nature of this bill, for the first time since the advent of our democracy, the presidency is hosting a public signing of the bill,” Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, said during the ceremony.
Deaf Federation of South Africa national director Bruno Druchen said the Deaf community of South Africa in all nine provinces started in 2007 to make the current day a reality.
He added that other Southern African Development Community countries should be supported in making their sign languages official.
Ramaphosa said: “SASL has served as an essential communication tool for our citizens living with disabilities and this step will further empower that community.
“By making sign language official, we aim to advance the rights of people who communicate through sign language and to ensure that their dignity, their regard is uplifted in our society. To empower people to use their language is to affirm their humanity and their existence.”
Sign Language Education and Development director Cara Loening said: “Now, we as a nation need to take this further to ensure that SASL is incorporated into all essential services, particularly education.
“Constitutionally recognising SASL as an official language provides opportunities for educational institutions to curricularise SASL, encouraging South African citizens to learn our indigenous language, thereby breaking communication barriers that have existed for so long in society as well as in all public services.”
The Pan South African Language Board said the move validates and solidifies SASL as a language resource for unleashing the potential of the Deaf community and would bridge the vast gap between the hearing and the Deaf community.