Picture: Siyabulela Dludla/GCIS

Johannesburg - The South African government dedicated this year's Human Rights Day commemorations to the promotion of indigenous languages, including sign language, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in Sharpeville on Thursday.

"We want to do so because language is a fundamental part in building a human rights culture. This coincides with the United Nations declaration of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. In according all our languages the respect that they are due, we are affirming the dignity, worth and humanity of every South African," said Ramaphosa.

He said the commemorations are aimed at highlighting efforts to conserve languages that are in danger of becoming extinct, such as Nama language of the Khoisan people.

Primary schools in the Northern Cape have started teaching the Nama language, he said.

"A language rule book is being finalised by the Pan South African Language Board. The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities is actively involved in resuscitating Isihlubi, Isibhaca, Northern Ndebele and other indigenous languages," Ramaphosa said.

"As part of our commitment to empower and foster respect for the rights of people with disabilities, a proposal has been submitted to Parliament to elevate South African Sign Language to the status of an official language."

Turning to the ongoing power cuts, Ramaphosa said that electricity is also a human right.

"Energy, like housing, water and health care, is a human rights issue. It may not be mentioned in the Bill of Rights, but it is fundamental to the dignity, safety, health and well-being of our people. None dare deny that we have made remarkable progress in providing our people with access to electricity. In 1994, only 36 percent of the population had access to electricity. Today, eight out of 10 South Africans have electricity in their homes," Ramaphosa said.

"Yet, we are currently facing a severe energy crisis that is having a profound impact on the lives of our people and our economy. Restoring a reliable supply of electricity – and ensuring that we have a sustainable model for affordable energy into the future – is now one of our most urgent priorities."

 The president said the country has confronted difficulties before and will "prevail again" by working together.

"We will overcome the electricity crisis, just as we will overcome unemployment and poverty, crime and corruption," he said.

South Africa commemorates the 1960 massacre that took place in Sharpeville, Vereeniging on this day. At least 69 people were shot dead by the apartheid era police officers for protesting against pass laws. The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) had proposed anti-pass law campaigns across the country starting on 21 March 1960.  

Various political parties held their own commemorations in Sharpeville.

African News Agency (ANA)