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Given a Chance, the Might of the Disability Sector would Reign Supreme

Posted on December 4, 2011
In concert with the peoples of the world, South Africa commemorates International Day for Persons with Disabilities, aptly themed by the United Nations, 'Together for a better world for all including persons with disabilities in development'.

'It seems appropriate that one of the veteran greats of the South African Music Industry, Margaret Singana, rightly named "Lady Africa", should have been chosen to sing the title music on not only this version, but on the actual production series of Shaka Zulu itself.

She gives to this musical tribute, to one of Africa's Greatest Leaders, a powerful and richly-voiced dimension, a dimension which I feel is a valuable asset, as we humbly attempt to do the story of this legendary King, justice', said William C. Faure, Film Director in tribute. That was it! How apropos!

Margaret Singana, a world-renowned songstress, who ushered melodies to the discerning audience such as the abiding tune, 'We are Growing' , the theme song from the television series "Shaka Zulu" which went to number 1 in Holland in 1989, took her final bow (on Saturday 22 April 2000, aged 63) as the celebrated 'Lady Africa'.

She died largely forgotten, and in a financial situation unbefitting an indelible star: she died destitute, hungry and angry. The masses who had celebrated her fame evaporated into thin air post her untimely brush with stroke, and confined to the socially dreaded spook called a wheelchair.

If one approaches a South African in the streets of Cape Town, Soweto or Polokwane, and asked him or her association to the notion of 'race', the answers one would gather would be rich, layered and heavily imbued with personal and political signification.

The painful legacy of institutional racial discrimination shared by all South Africans, and the remarkable emergence of our nation from decades of conflict, have left an awareness of the oppressive appropriation of the race paradigm indelibly etched on the national psyche.

Similarly, though more latterly, an awareness of gender as a potentially oppressive marker of differentness has grown amongst the South African populace, not least as a result of anti-sexist legislation being enshrined in the new Constitution of 1996.

A history tainted by the systematic and brutal marginalization of the majority of South Africans has left us aware of what it means to have one's identity and one's self devalued or excluded.

It is in the wake of this sweeping imperative towards recognition of our racial past that we, as South Africans, begin to explore and interrogate further markers of difference, which carry their own weight of discrimination. The idea of 'oppression' is firmly attached within South African colloquial culture to the idea of race; however, the marker of disability is yet to achieve this status.

Nobody can sanely begrudge the sanctity that the coveted ACSA Disability Trade and Lifestyle Expo & Conference enjoys amidst the disability sector, which annually descends to its shores, akin to a spirited religious pilgrimage. Despite the fact that this extravaganza was running into its 7th year, there was poor mainstream media coverage nor presence - not to mention sponsorship.

Simphiwe Communications aims to firmly establish this attributive link, within a uniquely South African context. Disabled persons are, collectively amongst the nations poorest, even within a country characterised broadly by atrocious levels of economic inequality.

'HIV counselling not available for the disabled', screamed a headline (which went viral around the world) in the Mercury on Tuesday, 11 October 2011. This is almost all that one could salvage from proceedings at the 8th World Assembly for Disabled Peoples' International which was held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre, Durban from the 10th - 13th October 2011. With 84 countries in attendance, and international media enchanting ardent interest, this was a 'decent' headline indeed!

The language employed in the media to describe disability is significant: numerous expressions used in news reports encompassing people with disabilities reveal a perception of disability as an abnormality, an impairment, an illness or a tragic loss of 'normal, healthy' functioning. The inkling that people with disabilities require pity or remedial treatment is often unintentionally conveyed by media, which effectively naturalizes perceptions of this sector as dupes who require assistance, treatment and rehabilitation. This perception does not recognize the individuality, agency and abilities of people with disabilities.

This is because this evidence of discrimination - the stairs, the printed word, the busses and trains, the inaccessible toilets and the hostile or patronizing attitudes, to name a very small few - remains invisible to those socialised within a disablist environment, until an awareness begins to be actively created.

'Popular Sunday Times columnist and journalist Gwen Gill died on 24 August 2011, Eyewitness News reported. She was well-known for her Social Scene column in the Sunday Times where she has been Editorial Secretary since 1971. Gill interviewed and socialized with some of the world's most famous, including members of the royal family, Oscar winners, celebrities and religious icons,' read an abrupt statement to this hero who's resume is too numerous to tell.

Similarly, our internal assumptions regarding what disability means, with their attendant ideas pertaining what people with disabilities 'need' or 'should strive for', typically remain invisible and unquestioned within us until we are required to reluctantly examine them.

In the significantly brief message (277 words) marking this day, the UN Secretary-General said, 'This multi-dimensional exclusion represents a huge cost, not only to persons with disabilities but to society as a whole. This year's International Day of Persons with Disabilities reminds us that development can only be sustainable when it is equitable, inclusive and accessible for all. Persons with disabilities need therefore to be included at all stages of development processes, from inception to monitoring and evaluation'. He is correct!

As an entity that encapsulates disability in its lexicon, Simphiwe Communications (which is mainly championed by people with disabilities) recognizes that changing laws can be swift, but giving them effect, and altering the mind-sets that often render them ineffective, is a much more demanding task. The most fashionable argument, we propose, would be for us to be jostling for practical ideas on how to refurbish our own prejudices and cast the same spell upon our compatriots in the know that:

Given a Chance, the Might of the Disability Sector would Reign Supreme!

Source: Edwin Sipho Rihlamvu, Managing Director: Simphiwe Communications.
You can contact Edwin by {encode="edwin@scomms.co.za" title="email"} or on his cell phone +2773 939 4868