Unfree on Freedom Day

Can we really find a reason to celebrate Freedom Day, asks Lebohang Monyatsi, when so many people with disabilities are still unable to access their basic freedoms?

On April 27, South Africans celebrated Freedom Day. This year marked 24 years of democracy; however, the majority of persons with disabilities are still struggling to mingle with mainstream society as a result of inequalities of the past.

When I consider my fellow brothers and sisters with disabilities, I shudder to think of the pain and struggles they go through: the ache they feel and, worse, the fear of what lies ahead.

One may ask:

How do I celebrate Freedom Day if I do not have access to infrastructure?

How do I celebrate Freedom Day if I am continuously excluded from activities?

How do I celebrate Freedom Day if I am deprived of basic needs?

Deep in rural South Africa, persons with disabilities are excluded from their communities largely because there’s limited understanding about their impairments; there’s a strong social stigma attached to disability; and there’s a lack of relevant and accessible services. Too many are isolated at home and deprived of basic needs – particularly children.

How can we ensure that the odds are not further stacked against us if and when we are ready to join the workforce? How will society equip us to rise above our condemning circumstances and access opportunities without throwing even more barriers in our path? It’s a long, hard journey.

This is why it is pertinent to reiterate again and again a truth within these pages: we need to empower people with disabilities. We need to make society accessible. We need to equalise our societies. We need to empower communities to raise awareness of the rights and needs of persons with disabilities and provide local services to meet their needs. The gains are for all.

Yes, we are persons with disabilities and we have our limitations – like everyone else. What we do not need, however, is to be rescued. What we need is for society to dismantle some of the systems that still shackle us.

Nelson Mandela said: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Long Walk to Freedom.

So, how do we celebrate Freedom Day when we do not feel free and our rights are not recognised? The right to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and access to information is very limited for people with disabilities.

 


Lebohang Monyatsi was diagnosed with polio at the age of three. She studied at North-West University and now resides in Vanderbijlpark, where she works in human resources. In 2017, she travelled to Sweden to participate in the Miss Wheelchair World competition and was crowned First Princess.

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