#Disablism Must Fall

Has our Constitution and various other pieces of legislation failed our citizens with psychosocial disabilities?

We have the White Paper Rights of Persons with Disabilities; we have the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. We have our Constitution. But February 1,
2017 should be regarded as South Africa’s D-Day for Mental Health Services in general, and the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities requiring high levels of support and care in particular.

I’d like to express condolences to the 94+ bereaved families of Esidimeni, as well as to families who still have members in vulnerable situations not only in Gauteng, but across the country. I hope and believe that February 1, 2017 must be the beginning of the healing process.

In a recent press conference after the Esidimeni report was released, the Premier of Gauteng Province, Mr David Makhura, announced that:

  • He has accepted the resignation of MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who has also resigned as a member of the provincial legislature. Steps have been taken to appoint Gwen Ramokgopa as an MPL and MEC for Health. Ramokgopa is a former MEC Health and Deputy Minister of Health.
  • He accepts the findings of the Report in full and will ensure expeditious implementation of all recommendations.
  • Immediate action will be taken to move the remaining 1000+ persons with psychosocial disabilities who are still in unlicensed NGOs to safer licensed facilities.
  • Everyone identified in the report as having failed in their duties will be held accountable.
  • The Report will form the basis of a complete overhaul of mental health services in the province, and its recommendations will be used to strengthen health care in general.
  • The Premier and Minister, in consultation with the Esidimeni Family Committee, will work together in finding closure for families, including recourse mechanisms.

The United Nations Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities (CRPD) recognises disability as “long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

We call on all of South Africa … to appreciate that disability matters and that there should be full participation in all activities of daily life, especially access to learning, work and social inclusion.

Visible barriers to participation – such as steps, pavements without ramps, narrow doorways and no accessible toilets – are easier to overcome than invisible barriers related to personal and collective attitudes that reinforce the stigma of disability.

Invisible barriers to participation also include willing ignorance regarding accessibility and resources for products and technology that provide accessible teaching and learning materials, prejudice, stereotypes about disabled persons that lead to social isolation or marginalisation of persons with disabilities. There is also an invisibility of disability in the curricula and most mainstream research.

There are continued inequities in employment of persons with disabilities despite the Employment Equity Act of of 1998. Reasons for this shortfall include inadequate human resource management policies that do not recognise the need for personal assistance for staff with disabilities. Human Resources often consider infrastructural changes, equipment and office adaptations in reasonable accommodation policies. But these policies do not always take individual needs into account, and this requires sustained resources.

#DisablismMustFall is the new hill to climb.


Zain Bulbulia led the South African government delegation team to the United Nations (UN), New York, for the ratification and signing of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability. He is currently the acting head for gender, youth and disability in the planning commission of the Premier of Gauteng. email: zain.bulbulia@gauteng.gov.za

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