Feeling Free?

South Africa celebrates Freedom Day each year, but we cannot be a free country if there’s no inclusion of all races, genders, ages and people with disabilities.

South Africa’s calendar is peppered with days of commemoration. Religious holidays and days with political significance are usually celebrated in the form of a public holiday. Freedom Day, April 27, marks the day on which we had our first democratic elections 23 years ago.

Does this make us a free country? Can we really talk about “freedom” while we’re experiencing a pervasive sense of disquiet? I have difficulty in doing so. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to sound unpatriotic or suggest opposing the rule of law. But I want to point out that I do not feel free in my own country.

Why is this? People with disabilities are full citizens and therefore entitled to enjoy the rights and freedoms that everyone takes for granted. The rights of children with disabilities are guaranteed by international law and the South African Constitution, and the violation of these rights can therefore no longer be tolerated or defended.

The Constitution contains a number of rights that are relevant to children with disabilities. These rights to equality (section 9), to dignity (section 10) and to basic education (section 29) are very important. Section 28 also affirms the rights of children, including those with disabilities, to protection from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation, and exploitative labour practices.

We (I include myself) should protect and nurture our young in order for humankind to progress. When all possible laws have been passed and society has a workable consensus about issues such as the economy and climate, only then we will start really to feel freedom – the feeling that every member of society seeks, especially people with disability.

Full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of their human rights and fundamental freedoms will result in their enhanced sense of belonging and to their sense of contributing to significant advances in the human, social and economic development of society and the eradication of poverty. That is where we all want to be.

Now this is a very clear goal, but our frame of mind not only hampers us from reaching this goal, it terrifies us for our future. Because we cherish the notion of inclusion: remember nothing about us, without us. We need to be included in all spheres of society.

Inclusion is regarded as a universal human right and aims at embracing the diversity of all people irrespective of race, gender, disability or any other differences. It is about equal access and opportunities and eliminating discrimination and intolerance for all.

It is about a sense of belonging: feeling respected and valued for who you are; experiencing a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can fully participate in society with no restrictions or limitations. Inclusion is the ultimate objective of mainstreaming. That will result in a genuine feeling of freedom.

Raven Benny is the chairperson of QASA. He has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married with five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He also plays for Maties. email: rbenny@pgwc.gov.za

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