Will Sign Language Become The 12th Official Language of South Africa?

Will Sign Language Become The 12th Official Language of South Africa?
Christina Comben

Unless you’re one of few people who know how to sign, or are affected by hearing problems, you may have missed that World Hearing Day was celebrated this past March 3rd. There are about 70 million people around the world who use Sign Language as their mother tongue. And in South Africa, the National Deaf Association (SANDA) is petitioning for Sign Language to be included as the 12th official language of the country.

On Monday of this week, the launch of the South African Sign Language Campaign in Johannesburg began. On that same day, the protectionist body for religion, culture and linguistic rights signed a memorandum with SANDA. The purpose of which was to recognize the importance of Sign Language, in a bid to elevate it to becoming an official South African language.

The importance of Sign Language in universities

Well-known South African actor, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, commented: “I wish our government could look into ways to elevate the lives of deaf people. Universities should be flooded with interpreters, so when deaf people have to go to University, they don’t have to think twice. Most Universities are not providing that service.”

Founder of the for the preservation and promotion of South African arts and culture, Maake Ka-Ncube’s own daughter is deaf. He said that he never realized how hard tertiary education was for deaf people until his daughter attended a higher education institution.

He gave a compelling speech in support of improved initiatives for deaf people, breaking down as he told the audience about the moment he realized that his daughter was deaf. “She’s been a star in my life. She may not even know how,” he told, fighting back the tears.

Chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL), Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, was also present. She stated that she was hoping to work side by side with Maake Ka-Ncube, as well as other deaf communities to campaign for their rights. Their end goal is to get Sign Language recognized as South Africa’s 12th official language.

Achieving legal status

SANDA CEO, Jabulane Blose, commented that legally recognizing Sign Language as an official language was vital. Achieving this status will greatly help to promote deaf people’s rights and encourage their equal participation in society.

Blose further called out to all higher education institutions make Sign Language readily available to students.

“The challenge is that there are only a few institutions offering Sign Language at the moment. There is limited access to it,” Blose disclosed.

A CRL report stated that at least 80 percent of the world’s estimated 70 million deaf people are unable to get access to education. Furthermore, less than 2 percent of these receive an education in Sign Language.

“We need to start with universities and make basic Sign Language available at schools. At the University of Free State, for example, we have Sign Language available. We need more training programs to be implemented so there is momentum,” said Blose.

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