COSATU welcomes the President’s assenting to the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill recognising South African Sign Language as an official language.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) welcomes the President’s assenting to the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill recognising South African Sign Language as an official language (SASL). 

The Constitution 18th Amendment Bill provides for the elevation of the South African Sign Language (SASL) from its current status in the Constitution as a language that government should promote and support, to an official language recognised by the Constitution and the state. 

This will be an important and progressive intervention for the 4 million or 7% of South Africans with hearing impairments, of whom about 235 000 are fluent in SASL, the overwhelming majority of whom are working class and struggle to access educational institutions and the labour market due to language and communications barriers. 

It will help shine a greater spotlight on the needs of persons with disabilities in general, and persons with hearing impairments in particular, and the many barriers they face in exercising their full constitutional rights, education being the most critical.   

These barriers range from accessing schools and universities, to communicating their ailments to health workers, laying cases with the SAPS and all the other daily but essential activities of life that depend upon being able to communicate with society.  These barriers have a massive impact upon the education and thus the employment opportunities of persons with hearing impairments.  South Africa cannot afford to leave behind any part of society, let alone 4 million people, if it is to develop and reach its full potential.

Recognising SASL as an official language will compel government, in particular the education departments, to allocate adequate resources to support its official status.  It will nudge the state to invest in SASL interpreters and begin to conscientise society in a more progressive direction. 

International experience from New Zealand to the United States has shown the positive spin offs for persons with disabilities and society in general when recognising sign language as official means of communication. 

As Chinese disability rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, aptly said, “How a society treats its disabled is the true measure of a civilisation.”

The Federation urges Government institutions at all levels to ensure that they play their role in ensuring the full and practical implementation of this progressive constitutional amendment.  We cannot afford to raise the hopes of the most marginalised, only to disappoint them.

Issued by COSATU
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator
Cell: 082 785 0687