Tackling prejudice

If we want to improve equality and freedom, we need to do something differently. It could all start with addressing our prejudices and (mis)perceptions.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which has been signed by South Africa and is part of international law, is a significant step towards realising the rights of people with disabilities globally. It seeks to address discrimination, combat stereotypes and overcome prejudices by changing perceptions.

It places an obligation on governments to assist people with disabilities in achieving equality with fellow citizens. But how do we change perceptions when people are so different? I often wonder about this topic, as South Africa is a nation known for its diversity. We have different backgrounds, cultures and heritage, but we nevertheless embarked on a journey of unity in 1994.

While there is much that we have achieved and of which we can be proud, we still struggle to meet certain challenges. We need to forgive our dark past and strive towards equality, freedom, safety and security, education and employment. We need to do some things differently. We can start by acknowledging the contribution of service providers within our communities, especially the previously disadvantaged.

One determined individual inspires me. Despite all the negativity and whingeing that some of us do at times, we’d do well to note this: there’s a small business owner who sells sweets, snacks, fruit and vegetables to pedestrians on their way to the Langa train station in Cape Town. His stall is on the pavement. While this might seem an insignificant thing to some, his customers appreciate the convenience of buying their snacks on their way to the station. In return, he has employment. He pushes his wheelchair to the taxi rank every second day to go to the market at 04h30 for fresh produce.

This is a prime example of what can be done within a community. Some areas do have more wealth, security, employment opportunities and health services, but we need to work on stamping out discrimination and on forgetting the prejudices.

The recent sporadic attacks on foreign-owned shops in some townships come to mind. These senseless acts of violence confuse me. How can one loot a shop in protest against (allegedly) expired or fake goods? One could argue that, more likely, it was the threat that foreign shopkeepers would take the opportunities away from local shopkeepers. Yet, are we not all human beings, with similar needs? Are we not all trying to live better lives?

I’m optimistic and I do believe that together we will get it right. A good friend recently used the following quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe, an American abolitionist and author. It seems appropriate for this topic and I want to leave you with it.

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”


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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