People with disabilities say politicians use them to get votes whilst government uses them as a front to meet disability employment quotas. They say they are continuously ill-treated and discriminated against when they go out to seek government services and assistance, including by law enforcement and healthcare workers.
A newly established political party will be contesting the November 1st municipal elections with the express aim of fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.
Mpumi Mevana’s anger and frustration at government and politicians are palpable. She says the treatment given to people with disabilities like herself, by sectors of society is not only demeaning but borders on discrimination and marginalization.
Mevana says she feels that people with disabilities are used as a front in government and in the private sector.
“How can you expect a blind person to work on a laptop that does not have JAWS (computer software)? How can you expect a blind person to work in a place where there are steps and you do not provide a ramp for a person who uses a wheelchair? So, they just using them as a front that at least we have a person with disabilities. Hence today you see only Albinos in the retail. They not giving them magnifying equipment to help them perform better, because they are short-sighted. So, what I am trying to say here is that we are set up for failure to an extent that…it’s like it’s deliberate,” she says.
Nosipho Jeli, from Soweto, has multiple disabilities. She has a physical disability, a speech defect, and is also partially blind. She feels that the entry requirements for learnerships, which require candidates to be between the ages of 16 and 35 and have a matric or other training, are restrictive especially for people with disabilities. She feels that even though she never completed matric, the skills training programme she has attended puts her in good stead to hold a job.
“Most of the people with a disability do not possess a matric qualification. Others never reached high school. But they are struggling due to these requirements. When you look in Parliament, many people did not reach high school level, yet they are working, how come. It is painful because we too deserve what they have gotten,” says Jeli.
Thulani Mhlongo has a physical disability and moves around with the aid of a wheelchair. He has never voted and does not intend to, come November 1st. He sees no reason for voting because he is convinced that politicians only recognise people with disabilities when they are campaigning for votes.
“Voting for me is null and void. When you talk about the Disability Grant, it is utter nonsense. How can you afford the cost of living with that money? It is too little for you alone,” says Mhlongo.
South Africa’s Constitution recognises and protects the rights of Persons with Disabilities. All three spheres of government and state institutions have a legal responsibility to ensure that Persons with Disabilities have equal access and enjoy the same rights as any other South African.
Mamoriri Shayi, who is the Secretary-General of Disability and Older Person Political Party formed in 2019, says that persons with disabilities face a myriad of challenges when trying to access government services including a lack of sign language interpreters.
“You got to the police station, there is no sign language interpreter. You go to the clinic there is no sign language interpreter for those people. We need special RDP houses. A person with a wheelchair she/he needs a paraplegic toilet within that house so that, that house can be able to accommodate him/her with her wheelchair,” says Shayi.
He says it is these challenges that have prompted them to contest the November 1st municipal elections. They will be fielding 15 councillor candidates for the elections.
Shayi says the party’s manifesto will be unveiled in Secunda in Mpumalanga on Saturday.