Power of building inclusivity

Lawrence Zwane, 29, is a popular member of the reception team at Medicross Pinetown medical and dental centre, with a gift for working with people. After leaving school, he studied basic home-based care and a correspondence computer course. However, in March 2018, Lawrence’s foot had to be amputated and he was unsure what the future held for him.

“I don’t consider myself disabled,” Lawrence says. “I consider myself as able as anyone and I prove it in my work performance. I can do anything that other people can do. Even I forget that I have one foot sometimes. My disability has taught me to be strong and brave, and I’ve managed to achieve things that I would not have done otherwise.”

Lawrence is one of the 777 persons with disabilities working in the Netcare Group, making up some 4,24 percent of the workforce. This is more than double the Department of Employment and Labour’s target of two percent.

Addressing economic isolation

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has noted that people with disabilities often face significant barriers to accessing education and healthcare, which places them “at risk of economic isolation with no prospect of securing employment”.

Dr Nceba Ndzwayiba, Netcare’s Group director of human resources and transformation, says: “For far too long, persons with disabilities have been side-lined in the labour market and mainstream society. We need to recognise how together these forces keep creating marginalisation and inequality and exclude people unfairly.

“The only way not to be part of the problem of exclusion is to purposefully find solutions. We need to be aware that the concept of disability highlights the impairing ways in which society is organised, rather than any limitation in a person’s abilities,” he continues.

“As part of the Group’s longstanding multi-pronged strategies to assist unemployed South Africans with disabilities to enter the mainstream economy, Netcare has been intentionally challenging stereotypes, and bridging the gap between the skills required to participate meaningfully in the economy and employment of persons with disabilities,” Dr Ndzwayiba adds.

A lifechanging interview

“After my recovery I was unemployed, sitting at home in Dassenhoek in 2019 when I heard about Netcare’s Sinako learnership programme. After applying, I was asked to come in for an interview. I was accepted and it has had a great impact on my life ever since,” Lawrence says.

“I started my training in November 2019 in Durban North and completed my Business Administration Level Four before being employed, first on contract, then on a permanent basis, at Netcare Medicross Pinetown,” he adds.

Netcare’s Sinako learnership programme was launched by Netcare in 2012 to assist unemployed South Africans with disabilities to enter the mainstream economy. The project offers structured internships, learnerships and experiential learning opportunities in a number of fields to facilitate the development of skills and working experience for high potential persons with disabilities.

“Since its inception, 289 candidates have enrolled on the Sinako programme, which, in addition to general inclusive recruitment, has contributed to the improvement of our representation from 410 people in 2012 to the 777 or 4,24 percent of our passionate healthcare workers being persons with disabilities by September this year,” Dr Ndzwayiba says.

In the past two years, 47 young people joined the Sinako programme as part of Netcare’s commitment to the President’s Youth Employment Service (YES) initiative, offering unemployed youth formal structured vocational training linked to career opportunities within Netcare. Of the 47 individuals, 22 have been gainfully employed, while the remaining learners are in the process of completing their respective vocational programmes.

“The caring I bring to my work means more to people than ever”

The Group has also invested in making physical spaces within its operations more accessible to those with different mobility needs, and in providing disability awareness training to its employees including, for example, training that equips colleagues with skills to communicate with people who are hard of hearing.

Lawrence says: “I started working at Netcare Medicross Pinetown, and they arranged a chair for me so that I can move around more easily, and my desk has been specially adapted. My colleagues are also very supportive, and we are a very close team. When I had to go to hospital last year, they sent me so many caring messages. We are here for each other.

“It is rewarding to work with patients and their families, especially as a healthcare worker on the frontline when I know that the caring I bring to my work means more to people than ever. I think my disability has strengthened my special connection with people, and I always try to see things from the patient’s perspective, which is very necessary in healthcare. I have been assisting patients with their COVID-19 pre-screening and helping them to understand the importance of why we need to do this to keep everyone safer,” he adds.

Dr Ndzwayiba concludes: “It is a great loss to our country and our economy that, nationally, people with disabilities are still under-represented in the workforce, reportedly at only around one percent. We encourage other employers to do their part towards making South Africa’s labour market more inclusive, as many talented people might otherwise remain unemployed. Together we can do more to contribute towards achieving greater equality and poverty eradication.”

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