Address by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha, at the DTV National Zwakala Awards

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05 Sep 2008

Gracious Mama Albertina Sisulu, the Patron of Zwakala
Mr. Bruno Druchen, National Director of the Deaf
Federation of South Africa (DEAFSA)
Mr. Mathe Mosito, General Manager of SABC 3
Mr. Eddy Mazingane, Head of SABC 3, Factual
Mrs. Rault-Smith, Chief Director responsible for
Curriculum and Assessment Development
Mr. Chis Mostert, Director and members of the DTV Team
Distinguished young people who participated in the Competition
Members of the panel of judges
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends

It is, indeed, a privilege and a pleasure to be invited to come and celebrate with you the International Week of Deaf People. I bring you greetings and good wishes from the Deputy Minister for Education, Mr. Enver Surty, who has asked me to convey his sincere apologies for not being able to attend this function due to an unforeseen government engagement. But I know he would have loved to be here with you just to celebrate your achievements and your triumphant spirit.

This week is Deaf Awareness Week. It is an opportunity for those of us who can hear, to interact with those of us who are deaf and to learn more about the languages and culture of deaf people. But, more importantly, it offers those of us, who can hear, an opportunity to do some serious soul-searching about our own attitudes and prejudices towards people with disabilities.

I understand that Zwakala is a fairly new initiative by SABC 3. I must also confess I have not been watching the Dtv programme as it is aired at a time when I am engaged with some other programme. However, I must commend all the people who have been involved in this initiative and thank everyone who has contributed in whatever way to make it a success. I am deeply touched by your spirit of ubuntu. This exercise has proved to be very empowering for the participants and certainly exhilarating for their parents. It is an assertion that besides the loss of hearing, a deaf person is just as capable. This initiative has proven that if we adopt the correct approach to strengthening cognitive skills of learners, the challenge of loss of hearing can be overcome. Congratulations to all and please keep up the good work.

I am standing here before you quite embarrassed. I am in fact, doubly embarrassed. Firstly, because I am still unable to address you in sign language yet my very own sister, who is a professional nursing sister, is sign language interpreter. My second embarrassment is that our department has only just started the process of consulting with relevant stakeholders within government about the development of a policy which would elevate sign languages. The advantage of treating sign language as equal to the other official languages is that sign language would be promoted by government with the same vigour as the other indigenous languages which were previously marginalised. Issues relating to teaching the language, shortage of teachers and interpreters, schools would receive greater attention. I promise to do something about both these matters. On behalf of the Ministry and Department of Arts and Culture, I would like to pledge our unwavering support for your initiatives.

The Freedom Charter states that “The doors of learning and Culture shall be opened”. Open to all, is the underlying principle, irrespective of whether one is deaf or blind or living with any disability.

This competition has challenged all deaf learners at primary and secondary schools, and especially those in rural areas, to show what they are capable of, but more importantly, it has given us a chance to hear the stories and poetry of deaf children in primary school. These are our children whose stories are not often heard, especially by those outside of their communities. The competition may have come to an end, but I trust that communication channels have been opened and will continue.

Older learners in secondary school had an even more challenging task, but they have demonstrated their abilities and capabilities excellently. The depth of understanding and the wealth of experience of these young people led to intriguing and revealing presentations. I want to thank all learners who accepted the challenge and participated in this competition.

The particular challenge set for older learners was that of addressing the issues of HIV and AIDS. In South Africa today, most learners under the age of 18 have not known a world without HIV and AIDS. The pandemic has made it imperative for all children to be particularly knowledgeable about how the virus is transmitted, about how to protect oneself under normal circumstances as well as identifying situations that have the potential for exposure to transmission of HIV. Today every learner, female or male, has also to be fully conversant with the universal precautions against infection, on the playing ground or in the event of an accident. HIV and AIDS do not have any regard for status or disability. We are all vulnerable.

Learners with hearing loss or hearing impaired need to be made aware of their vulnerability and how to protect themselves. A special challenge exists for educators and other stakeholders in the field to develop sufficient sign language terms to enable children without oral speech to engage in the discourse of HIV and AIDS prevalence, infections, precaution and healthy lifestyle. Deaf children must be empowered to deal with HIV and AIDS and any other challenges impacting on their human dignity.

Sex education should be encouraged so that children can benefit from such knowledge and information. If we do not do this, our deaf children may become more vulnerable than the hearing children to the scourge of HIV and AIDS, gender-based violence and abuse.

Support groups that strive to endorse the development of healthy lifestyles among deaf learners of all ages are needed in schools and beyond the school environment. Equally, events like these that celebrate excellence, innocence and talent among learners are essential stepping-stones to promoting knowledge, healthy habits and self-reliance among learners of all persuasions. That is why we believe that Zwakala is critical.

The African communities have a strong oral tradition of communicating indigenous knowledge through stories that have been told and passed on from generation to generation. From the stories told by our grandmothers and great-grandmothers to the stories told by Gcina Mhlophe and other modern day storytellers, of significant events in our lives, the African continent has been a stage for its children.

Too often our deaf children are excluded from this culturally important aspect of our lives and so, once again, I wish to congratulate the SABC for Zwakala, a programme that puts the discourse of Sign Language in the mainstream and provides space for the stories, poetry and artistic talents of deaf children. Thank you for initiating this competition. It has actually this discourse to greater heights. South Africa celebrates Deaf Awareness week which concludes today, but we are aware of many noble initiatives in government, the private sector and community organisation which are geared towards promoting awareness of the challenges and triumphs that people with disabilities encounter.

The Department of Arts and Culture will also celebrate throughout this month, highlighting some of the achievements of people with disabilities. Our programme includes a photographic exhibition of 23 women with disabilities who will showcase in their work their triumphs and challenges. Visitors to the exhibition are challenged to look beyond the disability and see the vibrant, life-giving spirit of each woman. 

We also intend showcasing the work of disabled artists, both children and adults. The department will be assisting the Blind Library in Grahamstown to produce cloth books for pre-schoolers. Women in the Grahamstown community will be making these books by hand. The artistic talents of the Foot and Mouth artists will be part of the exhibition that culminates on International Disability Day – 03 December.

Tonight we have seen proof that there are no barriers to these learner’s talents and creativity if they are but given a chance. We should strive for an integrated society that has a positive view of difference and a commitment to valuing all individuals irrespective of the disability. We can celebrate our difference and diversity.

Our government clarion call for this year is “Business Unusual: All hands on deck to speed up change”. The improvement of the quality of life of all our people is a universal imperative, hence the relevance of the work of Dtv. All of us must be involved in bringing about a better life for all.

I wish to congratulate the teachers, parents and many others who guided, coached and supported these learners. You have done a wonderful job. To the finalists: well done on the excellent quality of your work and finally, congratulations to the winners, and thank you for sharing your work with us. May this be evidence of the success that you will achieve throughout your life.

I would like to end with a quotation by Cynthia Paddock Doroghazi who believes that Disability is a State of Mind. She herself is disabled. She suffered a brain injury in May 1990 which left her paralysed. She says “whatever you do, don’t be a wallflower”

Thank you to MaSisulu for her encouragement and support throughout the years; she has never been a wallflower.

I thank you!!!!