As of Wednesday, July 19, sign language has been officially recognized as the twelfth official language of South Africa. With this development, South Africa becomes the fourth country in the African continent to bestow official language status upon sign language, following Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. President Cyril Ramaphosa signed an amendment to an Act to formalize sign language as an official language in the country, as reported by the news agency PTI.
“South African Sign Language (SASL) has served as an essential communication tool for our citizens living with disabilities and this step will further empower that community,” President Ramaphosa said at a ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. “To empower people to use their language is to affirm their humanity and their existence,” he added.
Ramaphosa pointed out the SASL has been accorded official language status, and many barriers between abled citizens and the deaf community would be addressed. ”This will also resolve issues of access to education, economic, and other social services. People with hearing impairments will be able to have public information,” the president added.
As per the PTI report, the new legislation seeks to advance the cultural acceptance of SASL, ensure the realisation of rights of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing to equal protection and benefit of the law and human dignity and promote inclusive and substantive equality and prevent or eliminate unfair discrimination on the grounds of disability, as guaranteed by Section 9 of the Constitution.
Earlier, the presidency had said that SASL is an indigenous language that constitutes an important element of South Africa’s linguistic and cultural heritage. ”It has its own distinct grammatical structures and lexicon and it is independent of any other language,” the presidency said in a statement.