Pretoria - Activists, including the blind and visually impaired, took to the streets of Pretoria yesterday in a bid to make published works accessible to the blind following the book famine in South Africa for people who are blind.
Blind SA and others are urging the South African government to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled.
The treaty seeks to address the global “book famine,” in which only a small percentage of books are published in accessible formats such as braille or large print.
Globally, less than 10% of all published books are made available in accessible formats, and in South Africa, less than 0.5% of books are published in accessible formats.
“We are marching to urge the government to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, which is already in force in over 118 countries, including over 30 African countries. Brazil, Russia, India and China have all ratified the Treaty, leaving South Africa as the last remaining BRICS country to do so,” Pearl Nicodemus of Section27 said.
Yesterday’s march marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty by members of the World Intellectual Property Organization on June 27, 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco.
An online petition by Blind SA in collaboration with Change.org has gained almost 5 000 signatures in the past two weeks, calling for the government to ratify the treaty urgently.
“We are calling on the public to join us in advocating the rights to equality, education, freedom of expression and dignity for persons who are blind and visually impaired by signing the petition,” Nicodemus said.
Section27 and Blind SA handed over a memorandum to officials at the departments of trade, industry and competition, women, youth and persons with disabilities, justice and constitutional development, international relations and co-operation as well as the South African Presidency.
They demanded that there be no further delay in the process to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and that the ministers initiate the process of ratification immediately.
“We also demand that the ministers meet with us to discuss the process of ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty; and that President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ministers respond to this memorandum by July 27.
The memorandum has received the endorsement of 14 organisations, including the Legal Resources Centre, South African Democratic Teachers Union, SA Library for the Blind and the Centre for Child Law.
Despite the fact that more than 6 million people in the country live with visual disabilities, the South African government has refused to accede to the Treaty for the last 10 years, citing the need to amend its copyright laws so that domestic law aligns with the treaty’s requirements.
However, in September last year, the Constitutional Court declared the Copyright Act of 1978 unconstitutional for discriminating against persons who are blind and visually impaired. The Apex Court gave Parliament 24 months to rectify its defects.
In the meantime, the court created an exception that allows persons who are blind or visually impaired to convert books into accessible formats without the permission of the copyright holder, Nicodemus said.
She added that with this exception, the Copyright Act no longer hinders the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty in South Africa. “However, despite the judgment, none of the responsible state departments have initiated the process of ratification yet.”
Once ratified, South Africans can exchange accessible formatted materials globally and will have immediate access to hundreds of thousands of books for persons who are blind or visually impaired.
This access will help reduce costs and duplication of efforts by organisations and individuals who currently need to convert works into accessible formats, because they are simply not available in South Africa.