President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday signed into law the South African Sign Language Bill during a ceremony at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria.
Earlier this year, the National Assembly approved that Section 6 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, be amended to include South African Sign Language (SASL) as an official language to promote the rights of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.
In a statement, the Presidency said the recognition of South African Sign Language (SASL) as the 12th official language is an important step towards the realisation of the rights of persons, who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“South African Sign Language is an indigenous language that constitutes an important element of South African linguistic and cultural heritage. It has its own distinct grammatical structures and lexicon and it is independent of any other language,” the Presidency said.
The new legislation seeks to:
• Advance the cultural acceptance of SASL;
• 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;
• Promote inclusive and substantive equality and prevent or eliminate unfair discrimination on the grounds of disability, as guaranteed by Section 9 of the Constitution.
South Africa has become the fourth country on the African continent to recognise sign language as an official language. Other countries are Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
Watch the Signing ceremony of the South African Sign Language Bill:
Some interesting facts about South African Sign Language:
- South African Sign Language (SASL) is an integral part and an identifying feature of membership in the Deaf Culture.
- SASL has its own grammatical structure independent of any spoken/written language, e.g. English, Zulu, Xhosa, etc.
- The majority of Deaf people (95.6%) are born to hearing parents and therefore do not acquire SASL as a mother tongue.
- They acquire SASL at school from peers. SASL is the first language of the majority of South African Deaf children.
- A minority of Deaf children are born to Deaf parents and these children acquire SASL as a mother tongue.
- SASL, despite regional differences and variations, has the same grammatical structure countrywide.
- There is not a one-to-one relationship between SASL and English. One sign may be translated into English by more than one word (perhaps a phrase or a sentence). Likewise an English word may be represented by more than one sign.
- SASL is not more or less abstract than any spoken language. It is capable of expressing all that natural human language is capable of expressing with all its subtlety and complexity. That is, SASL can be used to tell jokes, ask riddles, express sarcasm, tell lies, create idioms, make poetry, etc.