AFRICAN LANGUAGES DEVELOPMENT UNIT AT VUT WELCOMES THE RECOGNITION OF SIGN LANGUAGE AS THE 12TH OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN SOUTH AFRICA
By: Qhawekazi Memani – 24 July 2023
Recently, a momentous ceremony took place at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where President Cyril Ramaphosa presided over the signing of a Bill acknowledging the South African Sign Language (SASL) as the 12th official language of South Africa.
Until now, the South African Constitution provided for eleven (11) official languages: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu. The adoption of this constitutional amendment and signing of the Bill into law by the President, brings the total number of official languages in South Africa to twelve (12).
Mr. Jacob Thamaga, the Acting Manager of the African Languages Development Unit (ALDU) of Vaal University of Technology (VUT) mentioned that they warmly welcome this turn of events, adding that although it is long overdue, they represent a significant milestone for those who rely on sign language for communication. According to Mr Thamaga, advocates for SASL have been tirelessly campaigning for the formal recognition of sign language as an official language in South Africa for several years – hence they welcome these developments.
Mr Thamaga together with Pabalelo Mahole, Ayanda Dupa and Moeketsi Jacob – Work Integrated Learning (WIL) students based at the ALDU Unit, further emphasized that SASL holds a crucial place in the nation’s linguistic and cultural history as an indigenous language. “Its unique grammatical and lexical features distinguish it from spoken languages, and this recognition ensures that it is no longer marginalized but rather celebrated as an integral part of the country’s identity,” they echoed, adding that this acceptance paves the way for its cultural appreciation.
“VUT’s current language policy is committed to respecting and embracing linguistic and cultural diversity within our institution. We will actively promote awareness of this significant achievement. The policy also mandates providing interpreting and sign language services during various ceremonies in the institution, and now, this Bill challenges us all to ensure that sign language receives the attention it deserves in learning and teaching spaces,” added Thamaga.
In conclusion, the words of the late former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela resonate deeply: “I again realize that we were not different people with separate languages; we were one, with different tongues.”
Let us stand together and unite in our rich diversity.