By Roxanne Daniels
Mfundo Lebaka, a Deaf educator, came to Rhodes University and gave a presentation for Disability Week on 14 May. Asanda Katshwa interpreted his South African Sign Language (SASL) at the well-attended event highlighting the difficulty in accessing education as a deaf person.
Lebaka was born deaf but his parents only discovered this when he was six months old. Despite only starting pre-school at age four and completing Matric at age 21, Lebaka is now studying towards his Bachelor of Education degree through UNISA and has already worked as a sign language tutor at WITS University. He was also a volunteer educator and supervisor at Kha Ri Gude, an organisation that teaches adults literacy and numeracy. Currently, Lebaka works as a Social Auxiliary Worker at DeafSA Eastern Cape and was given a teaching award this year in March.
Lebaka is at Rhodes for a period of two weeks with his interpreter, Asanda Katshwa, to teach the second year English Language and Linguistics students basic SASL skills. Katshwa can hear, but her first language is SASL as both her parents are Deaf. She translated Lebaka’s presentation into English, her third language.
Witnessing Lebaka’s facial expression, body language and energy that accompanied his signing put verbal speakers and hearers to shame. His silent communication spoke louder than the words that Katshwa related to the audience. The biggest obstacle to accessing education is the availability of interpreters. Lebaka noted that he would like to do an honours degree at Rhodes in his home province, but, like most South African tertiary institutes, the university is lacking in providing the Deaf community with this opportunity.
Lebaka is also concerned about the barriers Deaf people face in everyday living. He gave the example of the glass that separates clients from bank tellers who cannot assist Deaf people with normal banking requests.
Although there are difficulties that Mfundo Lubaka faces, the audience learned that he feels the most joy by being part of the Deaf community at church, where the congregation and the pastor are Deaf. “Everything is fully accessible at church. We also have a Deaf club where we play sports together and it’s a joy to be a part of,” Lebaka said happily.