Sign language in SA

by Sheila Pires

The Chaplain to the Deaf Community of Manzini Diocese has welcomed the recognition of South African Sign Language (SASL) as the 12th official language as it “has been hoped for and anticipated for a long time.”

The recognition of “South African Sign Language as the 12th official language has been hoped for and anticipated for a long time, even during the years of apartheid, when there was a struggle against racism and economic inequality in South Africa, deaf people were already championing the rights and wanting to have sign language recognized officially as a language,” said Fr Mark James during an interview with the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) communications office.

The member of the Order of Preachers of Southern Africa (Dominicans) said the call for the recognition of sign language in South Africa “started with the schools because many Catholic schools and even government schools were educating people using an oral method trying to help them articulate better in English, or sometimes because of the apartheid government, they would force people to be in schools according to the ethnic groups as well.”

“There was this sense of downplaying sign language and emphasizing integrating people into society through making them more aligned with hearing people or the oral tradition, or the oral method of education that was used. So, recognizing sign language as an official language means it can be used not only in education but in all sectors throughout the country,” he added.

On Wednesday, July 19, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Sign Language Bill as an official language to promote the rights of more than 4 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

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