Swaziland: amend the constitution to include sign and braille

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri Mar 2 13:29:16 UTC 2007

'Amend constitution'
By Njabulo Dlamini

MEMBERS of organisations of persons living with disabilities have called
for amendment of the constitution to include sign language and Braille as
official languages. Presently the constitution recognises only English and
Siswati as official Languages. In their moving presentation before an
attentive audience at Esibayeni Lodge yesterday, the Swaziland Association
of Visually Impaired Persons (SAVIP) and Swaziland National Association of
the Deaf (SNAD)  noted that a respectable percentage of Swazis formed part
of the community living with disabilities. This was during the language
consultative workshop hosted by Siswati Language board under auspices of
ministry of education and sponsored by Open Society Initiative of Southern
Africa (OSISA). Persons living with disabilities form three percent of the
population (over 30 000) according to the 1997 census. SAVIPs Joshua
Simelane reiterated that there was need for language policy documents in
English to be not only translated to Siswati, as some participants
alluded, but also Braille for the benefit of visually impaired persons.
Our recommendation as persons living with disabilities, we need to have
sign language included as one of the official languages and Braille for
the benefit of our members. Our advice is that each line ministry should
employ sign language experts for ease of communication with government
departments.  Again, weve noted that in recent years persons living with
disabilities were included in beauty pageants (as seen with Miss Deaf) but
we would like to take such concepts forward and avail space such as
hosting dancing competitions and others where the group of persons could
display their talents, Simelane said. His speech was echoed by Makhosini
Makhubu from SNAD. Makhubu said as the deaf people in Swaziland they were
a minority population but still wanted to be availed space and not
trampled upon by the majority who do not communicate in sign language.

He said government had not demonstrated respect for sign language thus far
hence its exclusion from the constitution. We are not speaking sign
language imported from US or Britain but Siswati. After more than 20
years, we are still discriminated upon as the deaf, said Makhubu. He said
they were experiencing a lot of problems, even seeking intervention from
Pan SA Language Board representative Edward Sambo in this regard having
first engaged government on their plight in 1992. Weve not reaped any
fruits from the discussions with government hence we seek your

In response, Sambo said the deaf association could get in touch with an
organisation working in close proximity with the SA Language Board for
assistance in addressing their concerns. Echoing the concerns, Save the
Children Swazilands Communications Officer Elizabeth Kgololo whose
organisation houses associations of disabled persons, said it was a pity
sign language and Braille had been left out of the constitution. She said
leaving out sign language was a big mistake because this was the only mode
of communication through that could be used by the disabled persons. We
support them (disabled persons) and strongly advocate for the amendment of
the constitution for sign language inclusion, Kgololo said.



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