Palesa Manaleng3 May 2024 | 13:28

30 years into SA's democracy, the vibrancy of the disability sector has waned, says official

Disabled people were part of the struggle to overthrow the apartheid government and after the 1994 elections, there were several people with disabilities in government.

30 years into SA's democracy, the vibrancy of the disability sector has waned, says official

Vodacom hosted its inaugural Accessibility Conference promoting the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities in Africa on Thursday 2 May 2024. Picture:@Vodacom/X.

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa is the first country in the world to have a sizeable number of people with disabilities occupying seats in Parliament.

But today, this cohort of society "is struggling to survive".

This is according to the chief director for disability at the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, Petronella Linders.

She addressed the Vodacom Inaugural Accessibility Conference for Promoting the Digital Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Africa on Thursday.

People with disabilities have for centuries been ostracised and denied human rights or any participation in society.

They have also had to brave their families hiding or excluding them out of fear they would cast shame.

In South Africa, like everyone else, people with disabilities were part of the fight against the brutal apartheid system.

By the 70s and 80s, persons with disabilities rallied and devised strategies to root out discrimination and oppression that they had been subjected to.

Subsequently, the South African Disability Rights Movement was formed in 1981.

It was designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP) and ignored by the South African government.

By 1984, the Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) was formed and comprised people from different walks of life.

Linders revisited the status of persons with disability at the dawn of democracy.

“And if we look back 30 years ago, where we were as persons with disabilities, firstly, from a constitutional point of view, we were not humans, because we were not acknowledged in the Constitution of South Africa, we had no human rights. And today, we have one of the constitutions that I would say, recognises disability at its highest level,” she said.

“Thirty years ago, we had a vibrant disability sector, we had a sector that was part of the democratic, rather part of the struggle to overthrow the apartheid system. And to look at representing persons with disabilities in the Constitution, we had a gap of a political party that supported persons with disabilities, in terms of wanting to bring them into government. And that's why if you recall, after the first election, we had a number of persons with disabilities in our Parliament.”

Linders said South Africa showed the world progression by introducing persons with disabilities in Parliament, adding that in 2024 the state has turned its back on the sector.

“We were the first in the world to have such a big number of persons with disabilities in Parliament. But now, if you look today, that is like, we have a situation where we have a fragmented disability sector. We have a sector that is struggling to survive. We have a sector that is not able to be supported by government. That's now the disability sector.”