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We dare not fail

Christelle du Toit
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Both the Presidency and the Ministry for Women, Children, and People with Disabilities have said government has to achieve a target of at least 2% of its workforce comprising of people with disabilities by 2013. This drive, however, dates back many years, and while government says failure is not an option, it has failed in this regard before.

In his State of the Nation address earlier this year, President Jacob Zuma stated that government has to achieve a target of at least 2% of its workforce comprising of people with disabilities by 2013.

This call has been reiterated by the Minster of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities Department (DWCPD), Lulu Xingwana, who told a meeting of the National Disability Machinery that the President’s statement was a collective responsibility. “We dare not fail,” said Minister Xingwana.

“As we fulfil our mandate, we must remind ourselves that our collective mission as a nation is to create a non-sexist, discrimination-free, equitable and inclusive society that protects and develops the human potential of its children, a society for all where persons with disabilities enjoy the same rights as their fellow citizens, and where all citizens and institutions share equal responsibility of creating such a society.”

Not a new call

In 2003, the then-minister of Labour,  Membathisi Mdladlana, said government had until no later than 2005 to ensure that 2% of its workforce comprised of people with disabilities, and that this had to be reflected across all occupations. This has not happened - even though disabled people comprise about 5% of the South African population, only 1% of both the private and public labour force is currently made up of disabled people.

Last year the South Africa Disability and Alliance (SADA) Chairman Muzi Nkosi told Parliament that the majority of disabled people in the country have been excluded from mainstream society and prevented from accessing social, political, land, and economic rights. He complained that the 2% minimum employment equity target for disabled people in the public service agreed on by Cabinet in 2005 had not been met by the agreed deadline of 31 March 2010.

Taking it a step further

South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has run out of patience. Earlier this year, the DA approached the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), asking it to “investigate the failure of the DWCPD to realise and protect the rights of people with disabilities."

According to Helen Lamoela, DA Shadow Minister of DWCPD, 10.5% of the disabled population have no education. She says the Right to Education for Children with Disabilities campaign revealed that more than 165 000 disabled children are out of school, and that the majority of people with disabilities in South Africa are unemployed, with the unemployment rate amongst people who are deaf, as an example, as high as 65%.

In her submission to the SAHRC, Lamoela requested, “an in-depth investigation into the financial mismanagement and misappropriation of funds allocated to the ’Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ programme within the DWCPD and its inability to deliver on its mandate."

According to Cornelius Monama, spokesperson for the DWCPD, the Minister has emphasised the critical need for government to do more to defend and protect people with disabilities. He said the Minister is supported by her Deputy, Hendrietta Bogopane Zulu. Bogopane Zulu says, “All spheres of government must have disability responsive plans and budgets in place for the 2013-2014 financial year."

The reality

Mary Jones* became physically disabled after a stroke. She works as a personal assistant in an internationally-recognised organisation, and says while people may not discriminate against her directly, they do tend to make presumptions, for example: “That you are either incapable, or simply lazy when you don’t participate in an activity which is beyond your capability."

Mary says it was probably harder for her to find employment than people who are not disabled as, “people assume you are less capable than an able-bodied person, which is not always the case."

Carina Vlachos, a teacher at The Gateway School, a place of learning for special needs education, points out that intellectually disabled people face an additional set of challenges when it comes to finding employment.

“Intellectually disabled people don’t know how to job hunt and, due to their poor communication skills, they are not easily successful in job interview situations,” says Vlachos. “Research also shows that intellectually disabled people mostly find jobs via family members and friends. Unfortunately, many intellectually disabled people grow up in poverty and their family members and friends are jobless.”

She adds that while the state has targets on employing people with disabilities, these rarely benefit intellectually disabled people. “The state prefers physically disabled people because the disability is visible and this makes them (the state) look good. Intellectual disability is not always visible.”

What you can do

Johan Viljoen, Principal Consultant at Ovations consultancy, says that while legislation forces companies to think about diversity in their workforce, this has unfortunately resulted in the frequent misunderstanding and abuse of employment equity’s true intentions.

“In our progressive South African society, organisations should no longer regard this concept as a ‘check list’ which must be fulfilled in order to secure major governmental contracts,” says Viljoen. “The ultimate goal in working with diversity is to weave it into the fabric of the organisation -into all the different dimensions of work, structures and processes. In doing so, staff are encouraged to appreciate that diversity management is about more than legal or ethical compliance – it is about good business sense."

To this end, Viljoen recommends that a good Employment Equity plan, covering all equity issues, be they race, gender, affiliation, or disability, be affected in all organisations. “With a well thought out Employment Equity plan, organisations are able to promote and manage diversity within the workforce – enabling them to service emerging markets.”

*Assumed name



Christelle du Toit has worked as a journalist at various media houses in South Africa over a period of more than ten years, including The Citizen and the SABC. She has trained and worked in the areas of newspaper, magazine, television, and radio, online and photographic journalism. She has a specific interest in government, politics and community empowerment news.

Christelle has worked as Head of Communications for the Royal Bafokeng Nation in Phokeng, North West, South Africa. She has also served as Provincial Head of Communications for the Department of Public Works and Rural Development in the Free State Province, South Africa.



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