27 June 2023, Johannesburg – Today, SECTION27, Blind SA and other activists and civil society organisations will march in Pretoria to urge the South African government to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. The Treaty seeks to address the global “book famine,” in which only a small percentage of books are published in accessible formats such as braille or large print. Globally, less than 10% of all published books are made available in accessible formats for persons who are blind or visually impaired and in South Africa, less than 0.5% of books are published in accessible formats.
We are marching to urge the government to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, which is already in force in over 118 countries, including over 30 African countries. Brazil, Russia, India and China have all ratified the Treaty, leaving South Africa as the last remaining BRICS country to do so.
The march takes place at 10:00 on 27 June 2023, which marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty by members of the World Intellectual Property Organization on 27 June 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco. An online petition by Blind SA in collaboration with Change.org has gained almost 5,000 signatures in the past two weeks, calling for the government to ratify the treaty urgently. We are calling on the public to join us in advocating the rights to equality, education, freedom of expression and dignity for persons who are blind and visually impaired by signing the petition here.
On this 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Treaty, SECTION27 and Blind SA will hand over a memorandum to officials at the following departments: Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Department of International Relations and Cooperation and the South African Presidency.
We demand that there be no further delay in the process to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and that the Honourable Ministers initiate the process of ratification immediately. We also demand that the Honourable Ministers meet with us to discuss the process of ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty; and that President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Honourable Ministers respond to this memorandum by 27 July 2023.
The memorandum has received the endorsement of 14 organisations, including: Legal Resources Centre, South African Democratic Teachers Union, SA Library for the Blind, Critical and Creative Clustered Community Project, Centre for Child Law, World Blind Union, Treatment Action Campaign, Lawyers for Human Rights, Right to Know Campaign, Electronic Information Libraries, South African Disability Alliance, ReCreate, South African Guild of Actors and Down Syndrome South Africa.
Despite over 6 million people in the country living with visual disabilities, the South African government has refused to accede to the Treaty for the last ten years, citing the need to amend its Copyright laws so that our domestic law aligns with the Treaty’s requirements. However, in September 2022, the Constitutional Court declared the Copyright Act of 1978 unconstitutional for discriminating against persons who are blind and visually impaired and gave Parliament 24 months to rectify its defects. In the meantime, the court created an exception that allows persons who are blind or visually impaired to convert books into accessible formats without the permission of the copyright holder. With this exception, the Copyright Act no longer hinders the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty in South Africa. However, despite the Court judgment, none of the responsible State Departments have initiated the process of ratification yet.
Once ratified, South Africans can exchange accessible formatted materials globally and will have immediate access to hundreds of thousands of books for persons who are blind or visually impaired. This access will help reduce costs and duplication of efforts by organisations and individuals who currently need to convert works into accessible formats because they are simply not available in South Africa.
You can access the memorandum here.
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