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Staff Writer | 19 May 2023

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) has approved the amendment of section 6 of the Consitution to make South African Sign Language (SASL) an official language – taking it one step closer to being a reality.

The Constitutional Eighteenth Amendment Bill is the legislative framework that will make room within the guiding regulations of the country to account for SASL.

The final verdict on the 12th official language being introduced is reserved for President Cyril Ramaphosa, who can sign it into law. Once this occurs, both the Constitution and the National Official Languages Act will be amended.

According to Parliament, the amendment is to include SASL as an official language to promote the rights of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Until now, the South African Constitution provided for 11 official languages: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

“Primarily, the amendment seeks to advance the cultural acceptance of SASL, the deaf culture; 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,” said Parliament.

On top of that, it aims to promote inclusive and substantive equality and prevent or eliminate unfair discrimination on the ground of disability, as guaranteed by section 9 of the Constitution.

On 3 May, the passed through the National Assembly (NA), however, it has taken a while to make its way through the legislative process.

Speaking following the passing of the bill through the NA, Moloto Mothapo, a spokesperson for Parliament, said that there has been widespread public support of the bill since its first adoption by Parliament in 2020.

In South Africa, the majority of deaf people (95%) are born to hearing parents and therefore do not acquire SASL as a mother tongue but learn it in school. Despite regional differences, just like spoken languages, SASL is interesting in that it has the same grammatical structure countrywide.

There is also not an on-to-one relationship between English and SASL, with a sign being open to being translated by more than one word.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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