Kingdom of Eswatini/Swaziland

  • Total Population

    1.1 million

  • Deaf Population


  • Number of Sign Language Users

  • Nation's Official Language(s)

    English, Swati

  • Other Languages

    The number of established languages listed in Ethnologue is 5. These are:

    • Afrikaans
    • Chichewa
    • Sotho
    • Tsonga
    • Zulu
  • Name of Sign Language

    Swazi Sign Language (SSL)

  • Overview Of Deaf Community And Education

    The first school for the deaf (initially called the Centre for the Deaf) was founded by Roman Catholic Missionaries in Manzini region in 1973 and was officially opened in 1975 with five deaf children (three boys and two girls). They were taught by Irish nuns, who brought some signs from Ireland and Germany but taught orally. In 1976, due to increased number of children, the Centre was moved to Siteki in Lubombo region and became the Swaziland Primary School for the Deaf. The school has now adopted a bilingual approach.

    The Swaziland High School for the Deaf in Matsetsa area (15km away from Siteki) was founded much later in 2009. Swazi Sign Language is being used in schools in some way, possibly Total Communication, but its use is not confirmed in any policy document. In 2015, the first cohort of deaf students sat for the Swaziland General Certificate of Secondary Education (SGCSE) examination.

  • Sign Language Overview

    According to the Bickerton et al.’s criteria, Swazi Sign Language is ‘developing’. It is not yet recognized as an official language. 

    SNAD and some other organizations run courses on Swazi Sign Language. A sign language college, apparently related to the University of Swaziland in Manzini, also runs courses. 

    Regional variation is reported in Swazi Sign Language, also per school. However, many deaf children do not attend school. It has been reported that deaf people living in the rural area (and have not been to school) use very different signs from those who attended the schools for the deaf.

    The Irish nuns who initially taught at the school brought signs from Ireland and Germany, but their influence on the current Swazi Sign Language lexicon is unknown. Influence is reported from British Sign Language but this has not been researched. 

    The University of Swaziland (UNISWA) started a sign language project in 2012 but the results of that project are not yet available. The plan was to develop a sign language curriculum and publish the first Swazi Sign Language dictionary. There is a short clip available about Swazi Sign Language online made by the American based Peace Corps volunteers working at the school in Siteki.

  • Deaf Organizations In Country

    • The Swaziland National Association of the Deaf (SNAD) has been in existence since 1989.

  • Overview of Interpreting Services

    There are some trained interpreters from Deaf Action (Scotland) and some voluntary interpreters. The news is interpreted daily and some other national events. Some interpretation takes place in health settings. The government together with the deaf association run some courses in Swazi SL for health workers.

  • Resources

    World Federation of the Deaf and Swedish National Association of the Deaf. (2008) Global Survey Report. WFD Regional Secretariat for Southern and Eastern Africa (WFD RSESA)  

    Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

  • List of Contributors

    Makhosini Makhubu & Anthony Langwene, Zodwa Beatrice Shongwe, Michiko Kaneko

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