Sona: lest we forget the disabled

In the 2019 state of the nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke about the empowerment of women, youth and society as a whole, with no mention at all of people with disabilities.

Why should people escalate their concerns before something can be done about it? Why don’t individuals who are mandated and trusted to represent their clients, do what they get paid to? Have our public servants forgotten their responsibilities?

How can a president not be provided with an update on critical issues facing persons with disabilities for his address to the nation? Why should disability issues take a back seat?

Every year in February, the nation is glued to their television screens to watch or listen to the president’s state of the nation address (Sona), during which he reports on progress made over the previous year and highlights the strategic plans for the year ahead. In his most recent address, the president reported on the empowerment of women, children and men. There was no mention of plans to empower persons with disabilities!

A few days later, after a social media uproar by persons with disabilities, a member of parliament reminded the house where government is still falling behind in implementing the disability mandate. Only then did our honourable president release a statement mentioning plans to meet with the Presidential Working Group on Disability – established by the previous administration – to come up with a constructive plan moving forward.

This committee has done nothing until now to represent people with disabilities, so trusting them to provide meaningful input on behalf of people with disabilities is a worry.

In the president’s statement he mentioned how they are working with renewed energy and commitment to ensure that people with disabilities are part of a cohesive society. He noted that the government is working to ensure that we have equitable access to education, health services, employment, social security and all the opportunities that come with living in a democracy.

I would simply like to ask people with disabilities and organisations representing them to monitor these developments and hold government and its representatives accountable for implementing suggested plans. If we don’t, we’ll be a forgotten community and we’ll see no progress with every passing year.


Emilie Olifant is a disability activist, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. She is the director of the Emilie Olifant Foundation, an organisation that strives to address socio-economic issues experienced by people with disabilities. email:

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