The minister of justice and correctional services has gazetted a constitutional amendment for public comment, which will make South African Sign Language (SASL) an official language.

The gazetted amendment – titled the ‘Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill 2022’ – is set to change section 6 of the Constitution to provide for the legal recognition of SASL.

Currently, the Constitution lists 11 official languages, namely: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

Incorporating SASL has been mooted for a number of years with a parliamentary committee proposing its adoption in 2020.

The amendment was previously approved (26 May) by President Cyril Ramaphosa with the Department of Basic Education announcing the introduction of SASL into the school curriculum the same month.

Ronald Lamola, the minister of justice and correctional services, said persons with hearing disabilities continue to experience high levels of marginalisation and exclusion due to social, psychological and structural challenges.

These experiences occur in social circles, at work, in schools, at places of worship and at many leisure, cultural and sports events, he said.

“The challenges exist for different reasons, including a general lack of understanding of deaf culture, the lack of South African Sign Language proficiency and the availability of professional sign language interpreters.”

Lamola said this limits the social participation and integration of deaf persons in society and impacts their right to freedom of speech, which, amongst others, amounts to disability discrimination.

The Western Cape Government said that SASL has its own grammatical structure, independent from languages like English, Zulu or Xhosa. However, regardless of regional differences and variations, it has the same grammatical structure across the country.

SASL is also often not considered mother tongue with 95.6% of deaf people being born to hearing people and learning it through school instead of from their parents.

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