Where it all started
In 1986 a meeting took place at the home of Miss Connie Aucamp in worcester, attended by her, Dr. William Rowland, then director of the SA National Council for the Blind, and Christo de Klerk. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a body that would control and oversee braille developments in South Africa. A committee called “Die Suid-Afrikaanse Braillekomitee” was established and was set up as a partnership committee of the SA National Council for the Blind (SANCB), consisting of the four founding members, the SANCB, Blind SA (then the SA Blind Workers Organisation), the Institute for the Blind and the SA Library for the blind (SALB). These four organisations shall hereinafter be referred to as the partners. Later the committee changed its name to Braille SA. After some time a few rural schools for the blind were also included at meetings and in the work of Braille SA. Gradually more constituencies came on board. These included more schools for the blind and disability units at universities.
The work of Braille SA
Braille SA’s tasks came to include braille code maintenance and development of grade 2 braille systems for all South African languages not yet having them, regulating and standardising braille produced by the different local braille producers, participating in the work of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB), especially in the research into and the later implementation of the Unified English Braille (UEB) code, and many other Braille related matters. With time Braille SA assumed the function of a braille authority, a standard setting body for braille in South Africa.
The National Braille Consultancy
During the early 1990s the National Braille Consultancy was established. This structure was a separate partnership of the same partners who together funded and oversaw the work of the National Braille Consultant. The Braille Consultant also attended meetings of Braille SA and became part of the structure and also reported to Braille SA. Braille SA, therefore, acquired a governance arm consisting of the governance structure of the partners, and two operational arms, one consisting of the braille experts and the other, the Braille Consultant. After a few years the partnership of the Braille Consultancy was disbanded and the Braille Consultancy was taken over by the SALB with the Braille Consultant becoming a staff member of that body.
Governance of Braille SA
The first chairperson of Braille SA was Miss Connie Aucamp. When she reached the stage when she felt work became too much for her, she stood down and Miss Antonnette Botha was elected by the delegations present at a meeting of Braille SA. In 2007 Miss Botha stood down due to work pressure and Mr Christo de Klerk was elected by the delegations at a meeting of the body. On the governance level the partners were not directly involved to the same degree. The SANCB was always considered to be the governing body, Braille SA being a committee of the SANCB. Up until the departure of the then director of the SANCB, Dr Rowland, all decisions of Braille SA required the presence of Dr Rowland as representative of the SANCB’s governance. Council’s direct involvement on the governance level diminished substantially during the time Mrs Wagner was the CEO of the SANCB. Blind SA was directly involved at a governance level insofar as its delegation always included someone from a Blind SA governance structure who acted upon mandate from that organisation’s governance. There was little or no direct involvement or participation by the governance of the SALB and the Institute.
A need for change
A need was beginning to make itself felt in the braille sector to establish a braille authority as a fully independent and inclusive organisation. Around 2011 the Braille SA partners started a process of consultation to this end. This process eventually led to the establishment of the South African Braille Authority (SABA).
Birth of the South African Braille Authority
On 4 May 2012 SABA’s new constitution was unanimously adopted by the delegations attending its inaugural meeting and SABA was established as an NGo. Its first executive committee was elected, consisting of the following: Christo de Klerk, president; Ntshavheni Netshituni, deputy president; Derick Greeff, treasurer; Pasha Alden, Deena Moodley, Eric Gama and Michael Tshiovhe as the other four members. Derick Greeff was also appointed as the secretariat.
SABA gets to work
The new braille authority immediately started attending to its many and varied tasks. 24 member organisations joined for the 2012-2013 book year. During the next year SABA had 17 members. At its General Assembly in May 2014 the executive committee for the next term of office was elected, consisting of the following: Ntshavheni Netshituni, president; Christo de Klerk, deputy president; Derick Greeff, treasurer; Deena Moodly, Lebogang Manyane, David Nkwenkwezi and Willie Malatsi as the other four members. Cathy Donaldson was appointed as the secretariat. SABA held meetings twice annually, but at the last General Assembly it was resolved to have one meeting per year.