20 June 2023

Sharlotte Mkansi, Youth and Skills Development Administrator of Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET), a Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation partner entity, recently gained the thoughts of Vianka Gounden, a hearing-impaired student that CRET supports, about South Africa’s recognition of sign language as its 12th official language.

Of the 195 countries in the world, only 41 recognise sign language as an official language. South Africa recently joined this list when the national assembly greenlit a plan to designate South African Sign Language (SASL) as the country’s 12th official language.

The journey to SASL being recognised dates back to 2020, when a parliamentary committee first recommended its adoption. The amendment bill still has to be signed into law, but when he does, it will come as a relief to many deaf and hearing-impaired South Africans.

For Vianka Gounden, a second-year student, studying towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Medicine and Surgery at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, this momentous decision strikes a personal chord. Vianka, whose studies are being supported by the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust, a Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation partner entity, lost her hearing at a young age.

These are her thoughts on South Africa’s move to make sign language the 12th official language.

How do you feel about sign language becoming the 12th official language in South Africa?

As a member of the deaf community, I think it is essential that sign language becomes an official language in South Africa, because it helps break communication barriers and will mean effective communication between people.

Do you think this new law will address challenges of discrimination in accessing services and information?

I personally have not experienced any discrimination as I do use my hearing aids and can speak to communicate. However, I believe that others could be going through numerous challenges, and this new law can open a branch of communication opportunities and reduce any discrimination surrounding this topic.

How do you think the recognition of sign language as an official language will promote inclusivity and equality for deaf and hard of hearing individuals?

It will display a sense of belonging to those of the deaf and hard of hearing community. I understand how frustrating it can be to ask someone to constantly repeat themselves so I think that members of our community would feel a sense of inclusivity and respect.

What opportunities do you see arising from this new law?

Job opportunities can arise as well as a decrease in communication barriers. Society can function more holistically while displaying respect for the deaf and hard of hearing community. Members of the community can also grow in their academics and achieve more than they could have imagined. There will be less discrimination with regards to job opportunities and provisions made for those of the deaf and hard of hearing community. It will also increase the educational access of those in our community.

How will this recognition change the perception of sign language in society?

I think this recognition would increase awareness of the needs and difficulties that the deaf and hard of hearing community face. It will increase people’s empathy and kindness for others in their community.

How can the government and relevant departments ensure effective implementation of this new law to benefit the deaf and hard of hearing individuals?

They could ensure regular check-ups of the progress made by students and allow students of the language to monitor each other’s progress. There could also be provisions for implementing practice with a member of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Would you like to convey anything to people who are not familiar with sign language about the importance of recognising it as an official language?

I believe that respect, kindness, and willingness of an open heart are the fundamental aspects of a well-functioning society. Through the recognition of sign language as an official language, members of both communities will feel included and respected.

Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation is an independent public benefit organisation. It advances programmes that target socioeconomic challenges in education, small business development, youth development, social cohesion and nation building as well as those affecting women and children.