Judith Madi with pupils at the Sizwile School For Deaf Children in Dobsonville, Soweto.
Nelson Mandela’s memorial service at the FNB Stadium in December 2013 will partly be remembered for the ignominy of the “fake” sign language interpreter, Thamsanqa Jantjie.

According to DeafSA’s Gauteng provincial director Judith Madi, Jantjie’s “disrespectful” signing had the potential to set back the fight for the deaf, including those who are hard of hearing, to foster an inclusive society for deaf South Africans.

“It was really ridiculous since (Jantjie) clearly does not know sign language at all and what he was saying did not make any sense. He is not an interpreter, and he was just using movements with no signs that could be understood by anyone he was supposed to be communicating to. This was truly disrespectful and an insult to all deaf people,” she contended.

DeafSA Gauteng, along with partners in the government and business, embarked on a month-long campaign to commemorate the International Week of the Deaf to lobby hard for the inclusion of sign language as an official language in South Africa, as well as ensuring that the deaf are part of an inclusive society.

The international week is globally celebrated from September 18 to 24. However, Madi said Deaf SA chose to make it a month-long event “because some schools are not always open (during) the International Week of the Deaf”.

She added that her organisation had been advocating that sign language be made an official language and had submitted relevant documents to Parliament since 1990.

Madi believed the country was ready for sign language to be made an official language, asserting that schools were also ready as there was already an education curriculum in South African sign language (SASL).

“There are deaf assistance teachers available at schools, and we have SASL interpreters as well. However, this is still not enough and to bolster the efforts, there are institutions such as Wits offering interpreter course training,” Madi explained.

“We also encourage different government sectors, municipalities and the like to learn sign language.”

She emphasised that DeafSA was not leaving it all to the government. “DeafSA Gauteng has been a major advocate in terms of training sign language and has been training various institutions around Gauteng on accessibility for the deaf in workplaces.

"We have also galvanised some companies to employ deaf clients from our organisation,” Madi added.

She conceded that it was difficult to “find good and quality interpreters” in South Africa, urging the public to contact her organisation, including other reputable organisations in order to swell the number of interpreters.

However, Madi was quick to add that a lack of interpreters was not an excuse for TV news organisations not to cater for the deaf.

“We are not fully satisfied with (broadcast media houses) since not all broadcasts provide subtitles or sign language interpreters,” she said.

DeafSA represents about 4million South Africans who are hard of hearing or deaf.

A series of initiatives was hosted throughout the month to mark the international week, including the education of public servants around Gauteng on the basics of sign language.

The events concluded this week with a round-table discussion today hosted at Wits University by Joburg's member of the mayoral committee for health and social development, Mpho Phalatse, and a “silent walk” at the Zoo Lake sports club on Saturday.

The Star