South Africa could make signing official language

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People signingImage source, TalkSign
Image caption,
People have been campaigning for more than a decade to get sign language officially recognised

South Africa could soon give sign language official status, one of a few countries in Africa to do so.

This is after a recommendation from the parliamentary constitutional review committee to alter the constitution.

The country's deaf community, which has lobbied for the change, says official recognition would help "give them a voice".

Sign language would become South Africa's 12th official language.

But it must still go through a parliamentary process before the change can be made.

In arguing for the change, the Pan South African Language Board (Pan SALB) said that communicating in sign language was a "fundamental human right".

"By declaring it an official language... [it will] to ensure that this language is taught in schools and government departments at some stage need to ensure that they bring people with the necessary skills to communicate with these communities," PanSALB's Sibusiso Nkosi is quoted as saying in local media.

The Centre of Constitutional Rights Phephelaphi Dube's said the move would lead to a change in how state institutions currently view sign language.

"All state institutions, schools hospitals, government departments would need to have personnel who know sign language and can communicate in it." News24 quotes her as saying.

Image source, SA Parliament
Image caption,
Sign language interpreters appear on parliamentary broadcasts and some TV programmes

If approved this means the private sector would also be compelled to make sure that personnel in their institutions and businesses are able to use sign language.

The first discussions on the matter started back in 2007, after a petition by the associations representing the deaf community in which they said millions were being excluded from accessing facilities and services because they were not able to communicate with service providers.

Several countries around the world do recognise sign language but that can have different implications in different places, and does not always guarantee provision.

In Africa, sign language is officially recognised in Zimbabwe's constitution. And in Kenya's constitution it says that the state should "promote" the use of sign language.

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