The National Assembly (NA) has approved South African Sign Language (SASL) as an official language to promote the rights of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Once signed into law by the President, this will bring the number of South African official languages to 12.
The NA approved the Report of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development on the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill [B1 – 2023] to amend Section 6 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
The amendment seeks to advance the cultural acceptance of SASL, the deaf culture, and will 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.
Parliament said the Bill would promote inclusive and substantive equality and prevent or eliminate unfair discrimination on the ground of disability, as guaranteed by Section 9 of the Constitution.
The Committee received 58 written submissions from individuals and organisations, with the majority of the submissions being in support of the Bill.
The Committee said it noted the opposing views expressed by a few commentators but submits that the recognition of SASL, as a twelfth official language, is an important step towards the realisation of the rights of persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.
The Committee further acknowledged that SASL is not a universal language – different countries have their own sign language and regions have dialects – but submits that, in South Africa, it is in the promotion and development of SASL that the various dialects are also recognised.
The NA said the adoption of the Bill could impact the scope and purpose of the reference to sign language in such legislation.
“Relevant departments administering those and related legislation should take note of this constitutional amendment recognising SASL as an official language in terms of Section 6 of the Constitution and consider whether the adoption of the Bill may require consequential amendment to associated legislation for purposes of clarifying the status of SASL as expressed in the Constitution,” added the NA.