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South Africa is considering adopting the 13th and 14th official languages

By Neelam Rahim

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet has approved the publication of the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill for public comments, which will pave the way for South African Sign Language (SASL) to become an official language in the country.

The Bill amends Section 6(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996, which proclaims that South Africa’s 11 official languages are Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

The amendments now recognise the South African Sign Language (SASL) as the 12th official language of the country.

As reported by BUSINESSTECH, South Africa considers the adoption of more official languages as a way of recognising people who have historically been repressed in the country.

Parliament’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee (JCRC) presented this week on potentially amending the Constitution to recognise Khilovedu and Kiswahili as official languages in South Africa.

Co-chairperson of the committee, Prof Mathole Motshekga, said parliament had committed to the UNESCO resolution declaring 2022 the year of indigenous languages.

“This demonstrates that Africa and the international community fully support the aspirations of our people to regain their lost culture, heritage and languages. Therefore, as this parliament, we cannot be found wanting in ensuring that we use the structures of this parliament to deliver on our mandate,” said Motshekga.

The Kara Heritage Institute is one of the groups pushing for recognising Kiswahili as an official language. Its submission said adopting Kiswahili would promote Pan-Africanism and the African cultural renaissance. The institute is already liaising with Southern African Development Community countries to promote Kiswahili and offer classes.

A parliamentary legal opinion on the 2020 Khilovedu official language submission indicated the factors that need to be considered before such a designation can occur. These include various practical and legal issues, sensitivity to the rights of minorities, and the important role these cultures play in enriching the nation’s fabric.

“The recognition and mainstreaming of indigenous languages reconstruct and develops the soul while restoring people’s worth and dignity. Last but not least, South Africa and her sister African countries are seized with the major task of building socially cohesive nations,” said Motshekga.

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