On 19 July 2022, the South African Minister of Justice and Correctional Services published the draft Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill for public comment. The purpose of the bill is to amend section 6 of the Constitution in order to provide for the recognition of South African Sign Language (SASL) as an official language of the Republic of South Africa. This will make SASL South Africa’s 12th official language, joining Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, and isiZulu.
On 26 May 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet approved the publication of the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill for public comment. This follows the Constitutional Review Committee of Parliament’s 2017 recommendation that South African Sign Language be added as the country’s 12th official language after years of submissions to the Committee by groups representing people with disabilities. The Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA), which represents one million deaf and hard-of-hearing people living in South Africa, for whom sign language is their first language, was one such group, presenting arguments to the Committee which emphasised that deaf and hard-of-hearing people were hindered from enjoying their human rights when they are deprived of their linguistic rights.
Although the country’s Schools Act grants sign language recognition for education purposes, the lack of official recognition for the language has meant that other departments, institutions, media, and facilities do not support the use of SASL. Supporters of the amendment believe that recognising SASL as an official language will professionalise and promote SASL so that it is available on request or on demand to assist the deaf community access services, information, public institutions, and education with relative ease.
The deadline for submissions is 31 August 2022.
Comments can be emailed to Ms Regomoditswe Baloyi at [email protected].
- The call for comments can be accessed here.
- The Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill can be accessed here.
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