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Unisa Press

Deaf me normal

Deaf South Africans tell their life stories

Hidden Histories Series, Unisa Press

Series editors Russel Viljoen, Johannes du Bruyn &  Nicholas Southey)

 Author             Ruth Morgan (Editor)
 Format             245 x 165  mm x mm (Laminated softcover)
 Pages              xv+277pp
 Publish Year    2008
 ISBN 13           9781-86888-435-3

(This book was delivered on 24 November 2008; prices are now being finalised:
Hetta tel 012 429 3182 / 082 3751687)
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 Prior to 2007 no books had been written on the culture and history  of Deaf people in South Africa. This groundbreaking book within the Hidden Histories Series came about with the help of a group of courageous Deaf people who entrusted their stories to author Ruth Morgan and her team. It provides a direct window into the experiences, perceptions and world view of the Deaf narrators.
"We never had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Deaf people.
  There is nothing for the Deaf community.
  Deaf people were affected but they were not given an opportunity."
  - Gavin Johnson

As part of an oral history project, Deaf me normal builds a bridge between the Deaf and the hearing worlds, so that hearing people can access the hidden lives of Deaf South Africans. The social discrimination against Deaf people during apartheid resulted in their extreme marginalisation and the silencing of their experiences.

Deaf people in South Africa, together with Deaf communities worldwide, have a culture with a long and rich oral folk tradition based on the use of SASL. As in other cultures with an oral tradition, the language is used in face-to-face interactions and does not have a written form.

The first part of this book consists of translations from South African Sign Language (SASL) of the life stories of 19 Deaf people from four different provinces, as a small start to the process of their healing and the healing of other Deaf people. The act of telling one’s story is often experienced as therapeutic and the group is heard.

In the second part, examples from the life stories lead to a discussion of the nature of South African Deaf culture. Life stories provide key information about how people make sense of their world in relation to themselves and to others in their past. The analysis investigates the nature of Deaf identity, culture and memory in South Africa.

Unisa Press Hidden Histories Series

Series editors: Russel Viljoen, Johannes du Bruyn & Nicholas Southey


'DEAF ME NORMAL’. Deaf South Africans tell their life stories - Ruth Morgan (ed)

The Guardian: The history of South Africa's extraordinary anti-apartheid newspaper - James Zug

  • The making of an African Communist: Edwin Mofutsanyana and the Communist Party of South Africa 1927—1939 - Robert Edgar (reprinted by popular demand)\
  • Writing left: The radical journalism of Ruth First - Donald Pinnock
  • 50 Years of the Freedom Charter - Jeremy Cronin & Raymond Suttner
  • Rebellion and Uproar: Makhanda and the Great Escape from Robben Island - Julia C. Wells

Contents: `DEAF ME NORMAL’: Deaf South Africans tell their life stories

Table of Contents
Acknowledgements. ii
Deaf Culture Project Team.. iii
Acronyms. viii

     Norman: "We voted for Nelson Mandela so we should all be equal" 10
     Nadine: "The use of sign language is part of our identity" 16
     Amelia:  "The deaf people wanted sign language at school"  21
     Nomfundo: "I think to be deaf is to be number one"  25
  Nafisa: "Deaf achievers are my role models"   29
      Rosina: "While I was at school I wanted to use sign language and not speech"  39
      Esther: "I am normal and I am Deaf"   48
      Marie: "I want to lobby for the equality of deaf people"  56
      Adelaide: "The adult Deaf gave me a sign name"  62
      Rose: "I know that Deaf people can do everything that hearing people can do" 70
       Simon: "My heart is with the Deaf people"   74
       Thobile: "We come from a deaf family and know how to sign properly"  78
       Amos: "I want to be part of Deaf culture, which is our own culture"  83
       James: "I join Deaf people for signing – it is my home and my culture"   92
       John: "It is our right to be openly deaf and gay"  100
       Elsabe: "My work accepts me 100 per cent as a Deaf person. They say that I am the best worker regardless of the fact that I am a lesbian"  107
       William: "I am firstly deaf and then gay"   111
        Riaz: "I was happy to stay at school, because I suffered at home"  117
        Petrus: "I was only interested in Deaf ladies" 120
  Introduction    123
Using life stories to understand Deaf identity and culture from a Deaf perspective. 123
The themes. 127
1. Living in the margins of the dominant hearing world. 127
Growing up in a hearing family. 127
The problems in schools for Deaf learners. 134
Working in the hearing world. 154
2. The Deaf cultural view from inside the Deaf world. 161
Growing up in a Deaf family. 161
Deaf School becomes home. 163
Sport 167
Deaf pride and Deaf identity. 171
Marrying Deaf partners. 175
Deaf activism.. 178
3. Negotiating two marginalised identities: Deaf and gay/lesbian. 187
Early sexuality. 187
Schools’ reactions to homosexuality. 189
Coming Out 190
Religion and same-sexuality. 193
Gay social spaces. 194
Relationships. 196
Constructing a Deaf-Gay identity. 199
Notes 210

About the contributors: The Project Team

Editor Ruth Morgan (hearing)
Conceptualised and co-ordinated all aspects of this project. She has a Master’s degree in the linguistics of sign languages from Gallaudet University and a PhD in linguistic anthropology from The American University focusing on the narrative analysis of a Deaf Namibian’s life story. She has worked in the field of sign language studies and Deaf culture for 20 years. This project formed a major part of her postdoctoral research from 2000 to 2001 at what is now the Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies in the School of Literature and Language Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. Ruth is currently the director of the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action of South Africa
Debra Aarons (hearing)
Was an Associate Professor in the Department of General Linguistics at Stellenbosch University at the time of this project. She initiated a Masters level programme with a focus on the linguistics of sign languages. Debra now works at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. She was the initial principal researcher on the grant that made it possible for us to receive funding for this project through Stellenbosch University’s Research Office and administered the grant until she left the country in December 2002.
Philemon Akach (hearing)
Is a senior lecturer in South African Sign Language (SASL) in the Department of Afro-Asiatic, Sign Language and Language Practice at the University of the Free State, where he teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses including SASL interpreter training. He also conducts research on many aspects of SASL and Deaf education, and is an internationally recognised sign language interpreter. Philemon and Emily Matabane were responsible for the fieldwork for this project in the Free State, where they identified and interviewed participants. Philemon was also responsible for checking the Gauteng transcriptions and translating them into English.
Atiyah Asmal (Deaf)
Is a founder member of the non-profit organisation Sign Language Education and Development (SLED). She was part of the Gauteng team who identified and interviewed participants and spent three years transcribing the interviews from all four provinces.
Olga Blose (Deaf)
Worked as a sign language teaching assistant at the University of the Witwatersrand at the time of this project. She was part of the Gauteng team who identified and interviewed participants and spent three years transcribing the interviews from all four provinces.
Jolene Huntley (Deaf)
Worked as a tutor teaching South African Sign Language at the University of the Witwatersrand at the time of this project. She was part of the Gauteng team who identified and interviewed participants and spent three years transcribing the interviews from all four provinces.
Gavin Johnson (Deaf)
Is a development officer and sign language instructor working for the Deaf Community of Cape Town (DCCT). He was responsible for selecting the Deaf interviewees in the Western Cape and conducting the interviews. Gavin also checked and finalised the transcriptions of these interviews after the Gauteng team had worked on them.
Stephen Lombard (Deaf)
Is the chairperson of the Deaf Provincial Council for the Western Cape. He also holds the position of Public Relations Officer for the Deaf Community of Cape Town (DCCT). In this capacity he is responsible for marketing and fundraising.
Lucas Magongwa (Deaf)
Is the co-ordinator of Deaf Education at Wits and a consultant on Deafness related matters. Currently he is involved in the Advanced Certificate in Education and B.Ed (Hons) in the field of Deaf education. He is a member of the South African Sign Language National Language Body of PANSALB and a member of the National Education Task Team. Lucas serves as trustee in the following organisations: DEAFSA’s Donor Trust, Hands on Foundation and National Deaf Services. He is a member of the South African Qualification Authority’s SASL and SASL Interpreting Standard Generating Body. His main areas of research interest are: SASL teaching and learning, Deaf community and culture, inclusive education policy implementation in respect of Deaf and hard-of-hearing learners, the revised national curriculum statement, early child development and Deaf human rights. Lucas is currently working on a Master’s degree in Deaf Education. Lucas was responsible for identifying the people in the North West province to be interviewed for this project and for checking the translations of interviews for the North West and Free State provinces.
Emily Matabane (Deaf)
Is chairperson of the Deaf Provincial Council for the Free State. She is a teaching assistant for SASL in the Department of Afro-Asiatic Sign Language and Language Practice at the University of the Orange Free State. Emily was responsible, together with Philemon Akach, for identifying and interviewing people in the Free State. Emily also checked the transcriptions after they had been completed.
John Meletse (Deaf)
Is an openly gay Deaf man working with Ruth Morgan at the Gay and Lesbian Archives (GALA) on the Deaf gay and lesbian oral history project that has developed from the Deaf culture project. John worked for two years with hearing interpreters to translate the final versions of the Free State and North West stories into English.
Rosell Rickels (Deaf)
Was part of the Gauteng team who identified and interviewed participants from Gauteng and spent two and a half years transcribing the interviews from all four provinces.
Bonga Sihawu (Deaf)
Was the Director of DEAFSA Southern Gauteng at the time of this project. He assisted with the identification of the interviewees from Gauteng.
Karin Willemse (hearing)
Project consultant from Erasmus University, Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, provided guidance throughout the project. She conducted an academic workshop at the end of 2002, which fed directly into the data.

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