Call to give sign language official status

5 December 2012

South Africa’s policy makers should debate the question of whether sign language should be added to the country’s list of official languages, says President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma was speaking during a Siyahlola presidential monitoring programme visit to Nelspruit, Mpumalanga on Tuesday.

During a community meeting at Bergvlam Primary School, people with disabilities and various organisations urged Zuma to add sign language as one of the country’s official languages.

Scelo Dlamini from KwaZulu-Natal’s Deaf People Association told Zuma that deaf children suffered a lot in schools as they were taught by teachers who did not know sign language.

“Please make sure that there’s training for teachers for sign language, including in early childhood development for deaf children to develop their language. Then they will know sign language better when they go to school,” Dlamini urged the President.

A representative from South African Disability Alliance urged the Department of Basic Education to improve the use of sign language in schools. “Deaf learners are still not being taught in the medium of sign language. Academic curriculum for deaf children and intellectual learners is unsatisfactory,” he said.

In response, Zuma said it was clear that the government needed to do something.

“From today we can argue it better – whether in Parliament or Cabinet – to say that this must happen. Children with disabilities go to school and are taught by teachers who don’t understand the language – you can imagine the difficulty,” he said.

He said learning sign language should be included in teachers’ training.

Disability Awareness Month

Zuma’s visit was the culmination of Disability Awareness Month, held in November under the theme, “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all”, as proclaimed by the United Nations for the International Day for Persons with Disability held on 3 December.

Responding to the challenges raised by people with albinism, including being teased, Zuma urged South Africans to respect their rights and stop calling them names.

“There should be no more calling them by different names … We have to respect the rights of all citizens, we might outlaw these names … so that we can caution society and accord them the respect that they deserve,” Zuma said.

People with disabilities also called on the government to ensure that departments fast-tracked the implementation of a 2% employment quota for people with disabilities, as they also wanted to be part of the country’s growing economy.

Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana promised to follow up on the matter, and others raised during the meeting, with Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. She also committed to call on other government departments to adhere to the 2% employment quota.

“We already know the problems relating to access to transport and housing, and we are discussing these issues with relevant ministers including the Department of Labour.

“We will sit down and speak with the arts and culture minister to recognise the issue of sign language. The basic education minister heard all the issues regarding education, and we will pass a request to the health minister about the access to hearing aids,” Xingwana said.