Pretoria – The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) has welcomed the approval to allow hearing impaired pupils to choose sign language as a first language.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga made the approval this month.

According to PanSALB, this is a positive response to the hearing impaired community and to the entire country, particularly to those who wish to study sign language.

PanSALB is of the view that the South African sign language like any other official language is a fundamental human right that should be treated equally.

“We have made several crucial calls to government to prioritise sign language like any other formal language and efforts have for a very long time drawn blank.

“This was done on the basis that we believe it has been violated and marginalised as compared to other languages,” said the Chairperson of the Board, Professor Mbulungeni Madiba.

“As it is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, we believe all languages are equal and that sign language should all be given the recognition, respect and publicity it deserves,” Madiba added.

PanSALB believes teaching South Africans sign language from school level will also regulate and limit challenges of incorrect sign language interpreters, such as the one experienced during the memorial service of the former state President Nelson Mandela, in December last year.

PanSALB is adamant that this positive response will also help the country in nurturing the unique heritage of multilingualism.

As the institution has been mandated to actively promote awareness of multilingualism as a national resource and previously marginalised languages, responses such as this one will assist in monitoring the development and progress of the language.

It will also ensure that respect and equality in the right of languages are seen in practice.

South Africa commemorates 20 years of freedom this year and we believe all official languages should also enjoy the freedom they deserve.

“We are looking forward to working with the Department of Basic Education to ensure that the provision of South African sign language becomes a success and contributes immensely to empower the deaf community so that it is able to participate on equal basis with others as productive members of society,” Madiba said.