Equality before the law: it may sound simple but it’s a crucial feature of our democracy
It is a sign of a sound government that there are rules in place that govern the way that the society functions. And for our young democracy it is a sure sign of maturity. But then everyone has to obey these rules, as it is stipulated that we all shall be equal before the law. Just recently the South African public was pleasantly surprised by the ruling by the Constitutional Court that even our President has to abide by the rules. It was that same President who, during his opening address at the Disability Rights Summit in Pretoria in March, referred to the move to ensure that disabled people in South Africa are represented in every sphere of our society.
The gathering of the Disability Rights Summit was well attended by many guests, dignitaries and politicians. It was organised by the Department of Social Development to analyse and convert the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into realisable outcomes through practical implementation.
This is a huge step in the right direction of ensuring that disabled people in South Africa enjoy the same freedom and basic human rights of everyone. We were all grateful when our country was one of the first signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). South Africa ratified the UNCRPD and its Optional Protocol without reservation in 2007. And our constitution is heralded as being among the best in the world. But it is the implementation and monitoring of the legislation that currently lacks and leaves many of us frustrated. The Constitution of 1996 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and guarantees the right to equality for all persons with disabilities.
The Draft Declaration, while heralding the approval by Cabinet of the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a new era of activism in promoting, protecting and upholding the rights of all persons with disabilities in South Africa, also calls for legislation to be put in place to advance disability rights. “Policies are not enforceable, and there is therefore a need to ensure that all obligations contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and all the policy directives of the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities be captured in law,” the Draft Declaration proposes.
Progress has been made over the past 21 years in addressing the rights of persons with disabilities within a human rights and sociopolitical context. Persons with disabilities in South Africa however continue to experience unacceptably high levels of exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination. But we all have to do our part to change the way disabled people are perceived by the non-disabled members of society. The responsibility to make the legislation work and ensure its enforceability lies with us. We have to be involved in all activities in our communities, schools, places of employment and the associations of disabled people, to help turn the White Paper into reality.
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: email@example.com