MARCH 1998 TO 17 SEPTEMBER 1998
Since its establishment on 20 July 1996, Deafblind South Africa has moved forward until this organisation has now reached a stage where it has its own constitution which was adopted by the first Biennial conference of Deafblind South Africa on 8 August 1998. Also, a new National Executive Committee was elected at this Co snference. At pressent, Deafblind South Africa has three branches, i.e. Western Cape (Worcester), Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (Durban).
FIRST BIENNIAL NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF DEAFBLIND SOUTH AFRICA.
On 8 August 1998, the first biennial conference of Deafblind South Africa was held in the Theo Pauw Hall at the Institute for the Blind in Worcester. This was truly an historic occasion, as this is the first time that a conference of an organisation of deafblind people was held in this country and, to my knowledge, also the first time such an event has taken place in Africa.
The Conference was held in a spirit of goodwill and some interesting discussions took place, especially regarding the constitutiod and also the lack of intervenors for deafblind people in South Africa.
The keynote speech was delivered by Dr. William Rowland, Executive Director of the SANCB and also Second Vice President of the World Blind Union. Dr. Rowland gave a little background on the events leading up to the establishment of Deafblind South Africa and also stressed the importance of an organisation of deafblind people in South Africa. We were also preveleged to have prof. Theo Pauw, patron of the SANCB and miss Connie Aucamp, hononary vice-chairman of the SANCB with us for the conference. Mr. Andr`e Steyn, who was instrumental in compiling the constitution of Deafblind South Africa, also attended the conference.
Probably the most important event at this Conference was the adoption of the constitution of Deafblind South Africa. After some lively debate, it was decided to adopt the constitution by a majority of more than two thirds of the votes of those present. This means that Deafblind South Africa can now apply for a fundraising number and also start raising its own funds.
The first National Executive Committee was also elected at this Conference. According to the newly adopted constitution, the National Executive Committee must consist of a chairperson, vice-chairperson, secretary and/or treasurer and a branch representative from each branch. The newly elected National Executive Committee consitss of the following people:
Chairman: mr Andre van Deventer (Western Cape Branch)
Vice-Chairman: Mr Anton Pienaar (Gauteng Branch)
Secretary/Treasurer: mrs Marietjie Botes (Western Cape Branch)The branch representatives to serve on the National Executive Committee will be elected by each branch. Mr. David Geyer will be the branch representative for the Western Cape branch.
As mentioned earlier, Deafblind South Africa currently has 3 branches i.e. the Western Cape Branch (Worcester), the Gauteng branch and also the KwaZulu-Natal branch. However, the formation of branches within Deafblind South Africa is a difficult process, mainly because of the following reasons:
Transportation difficulties. Because the deafblind community is spread thinly over large areas of South Africa, it is sometimes very difficult to transport people to and from branch meetings. Also, at present Deafblind South Africa has virtually no funding except that which it received from the SANCB. This money must however be used to cover costs to hold National Executive Committee meetings. Hopefully, now that the constitution of Deafblind South Africa has been adopted, money can now be raised to cover transport costs within branches.
Language difficulties. Because of the dual disability of hearing and sight loss, many deafblind persons can speak only one language. It can therefore happen that deafblind people within the same branch might not be able to communicate with each other.
A lack of intervenors for deafblin? people and also other volunteers to help with organisational matters. There is a complete lack of training facilities for intervenors for deafblind people in this country and also a serious shortage of intervenors for deafblind people. Also, it does seem that very few deafblind people, especially among the totally deaf deafblind people, at this stage have the ability to effectively serve oy committees. It is imperative that serious attention be given to the training of deafblind individuals in organisational work.
It is hoped that many of these difficulties can be overcome so that, in future, branch activities can be promoted within Deafblind South Africa.
At present, the Gauteng branch is led by mr. Anton Pienaar as co-ordinator and the KwaZulu-Natal branch is led by miss Sandra Tyler. The Western Cape branch is led by mr. Andre van Deventer as chairman, mr. George Scheepers as vice-chairman, mrs Annemarie Loftus as secretary/treasurer , mr David Geyer as branch representative on the National Executive Committee and miss Marlene Rahn and mr Janne Rosslee as additional members. It must be pointed out that mr Geyer, miss Rahn and mr Roslee are totally deaf.
CONTACT WITH THE DEAF COMMUNITY.
On 4 August and 1 September two social functions were held, one at the Institute for the Blind and one at the Institute for the Deaf here in worcester, where contacts were made between deafblind people and individuals from the deaf environment. On both occasions, I was asked to be the guest speaker. I consider these meetings not only of importance to the Western Cape Branch, but also nationally, because contact with the deaf community is vitally important for Deafblind South Africa. Although Deafblind South Africa was founded by people originating from the blind community, it is important to remember that deafblindness has both a blind and a deaf component. Deafblind South Africa must also do its utmost to reach those deafblind people who may belong to the deaf community.
As a committee, we would like to focus on the following issues which we consider of vital improtance to the continued growth of Deafblind South Africa.
IDENTIFICATION OF DEAFBLIND PEOPLE AND INCREASING THE MEMBERSHIP OF DEAFBLIND SOUTH AFRICA
Because of the unfortunate history of our country, a concerted effort MUST be made to identify deafblind individuals in the formerly disadvantaged communities. It is important that Deafblind South Africa is seen as an organisation working for the betterment of ALL deafblind people in this country. This is very important especially on account of international relations, as questions were asked about this when I visited Colombia for the 6th Helen Keller conference last year.
TRAINING OF INTERVENORS FOR DEAFBLIND PEOPLE.
As mentioned before, there is a complete lack of training services for intervenors for deafblind people in South Africa. Those people who do intervention on an informal basis, are usually family members or friends of deafblind people. Plans must be put in motion for the training of suitable intervenors, possibly with international help.
FUNDING OF DEAFBLIND SOUTH AFRICA.
Although we are extremely greatful for the most generous funding we have received from the SANCB, We fully realise that we must start to raise our own funds. It is the responsibility of the National Executive Committee of Deafblind South Africa to acquire the necessary expertise to start raising funds for this organisation.
As chairman of Deafblind South Africa, I consider it a great honour to be part of such a unique organisation. Although an organisation of deafblind people necessitates hard work from a few individuals, the unique challenges offered by this work are very stimulating. It is my privilege as chairman to be part of this work and it is my wish that I may be allowed to continue serving the deafblind community in South Africa, in Africa and also internationally for as long as possible. On behalf of the National Executive Committee of Deafblind South Africa, I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to the SANCB and also to the Committee for the Multi-Handicapped for their continued support of Deafblind South Africa.
Andre van Deventer
Deafblind South Africa