Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Legacy of Deaf President Now in South Africa

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Legacy of Deaf President Now in South Africa

Article excerpt

It is important that we relate the impact the Deaf President Now (DPN) campaign had on so many people, including here in South Africa.The events on television-the students, the faculty, and the community members protesting-had an effect on my own life as well. They sent a powerful message to me, one that I held very close to my heart. Even today, DPN remains in my heart and has become an impetus for all of my work.

We need to always remember and honor those who were a part ofDPN in 1988.That movement-now twenty-six years ago-was important because it publicized the oppression that deaf people were experiencing. It became a catalyst for change. The DPN campaign created a very strong community not only at Gallaudet but also around the world. It was a crusade we all should be proud of, especially the Deaf community in the United States.

We need to share our experiences with hearing people, and when I use DPN as an example, the hearing audiences that I address are astonished to learn that a successful campaign was carried out to claim our civil rights.

Civil Rights

As noted on the web site South African History Online,

Civil rights are the protections and privileges given to all citizens by law Human rights, on the other hand, are rights that individuals have from birth. In countries like South Africa, the United States, and those in Europe, laws which guarantee civil rights are written down. Examples of civil rights and liberties include:

* the right to privacy

* the right of peaceful protest

* the right to vote

* the right to personal freedom

* the right to freedom of movement

* the right to equality before the law

When citizens in civil society find that their civil rights are not being granted, they may form civil rights movements to claim equal protection for all citizens. They may also call for new laws to stop current discrimination.

Transformation in Deaf SA

The impact DPN on South Africa is remarkable given the rapid transformation that has taken place. The South African National Council for the Deaf, which was founded in 1929, was run by hearing people who made decisions on behalf of Deaf people. There were no Deaf members at the time as this was during the apartheid years.

The segregation of Deaf committees was based on spoken languages and race. The prevailing view was that Deaf people were unable to represent themselves; as a result, we had our own apartheid within the Deaf community. Not until 1979 did we have our first deaf executive member, Father Cyril Axelrod. In 1982 Ernest Kleinschmidt became the second Deaf executive member in an organization still predominantly run by hearing people.

In 1988 the Deaf President Now movement shook the world and became a catalyst for other campaigns around the world, including South Africa. Because of DPN, the first Deaf culture workshop in South Africa was held in 1989. At that workshop we began asking for changes and discussing the kinds of rights that were being given to us as a Deaf community. We were able to do this because those of you in the DPN movement planted the seeds. In 1990 we finally had our first Deaf chairperson, Nico Beaurain. From 1929 to 1990 the council had been governed by hearing people. We protested against this state of affairs and demanded that we have a council run by Deaf people, and in 1996 we had our first Deaf national director, Kobus Kellerman.

South Africa has eleven official spoken languages, and in the two decades since 1994, Deaf people have indicated that the perceived eleven dialects identified at the time (based on the eleven official spoken languages) have become more similar. In 1996 the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA) stopped using many South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreters for Deaf people from the various provinces. At the time, we Deaf people believed that we would not be able to communicate with each other. Two factors that prompted this belief: first, the apartheid regime's language policy of divide and rule, which separated different ethnic groups, and second, the fact that we Deaf people had never had an opportunity to study our own language at primary, secondary, or tertiary schools. …

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