President Jacob Zuma: Disability Rights Summit and launch of Presidential Working Group on Disability

10 Mar 2016

Opening address by President Jacob Zuma to the Disability Rights Summit and launch of Presidential Working Group on Disability, Irene, Pretoria

The Minister of Social Development and all Ministers present,
The Deputy Minister of Social Development and all
Deputy Ministers present,
Acting Executive Mayor of the City of Tshwane, Clr Eulanda Mabusela
Chairperson of the South African Employers for Disability, Dr Jerry Gule
Members of the Presidential Working Group on Disablity,
Commissioners of Institutions Promoting Democracy
Country Representative of UNICEF, Dr Herve Ludovic de Lys
Global Disability Expert of the World Bank, Ms Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo
Chairperson of the Africa Disability Alliance, Ms Grace Massa
Leadership of representative organisations of persons with disabilities
Esteemed delegates,

Let me begin by welcoming our honoured guests and development partners, the leaders of the disability sector, attending this Disability Rights Summit.

Persons with disabilities have a proud history of human rights struggle for liberation in South Africa.  Convening the inaugural meeting within human rights month is therefore significant.

It is also befitting that we meet three months almost to the day after Cabinet approved the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 09 December 2015.

The new democratic government took an important decision back in 1994 that the discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion of persons with disabilities experienced under apartheid, could only be addressed by mainstreaming their rights and development throughout all legislation, policies and programmes.

It was important to do away with the approach of creating segregated facilities and development opportunities for persons with disabilities, and to contextualise the approach to disability within a human rights context.

The summit enables us to take stock of the progress we have made thus far in promoting the rights of people with disabilities, and also to look at what else we still need to do.

Importantly, today I will also inaugurate the Presidential Working Group on Disability, which I chair, which is aimed at mainstreaming the promotion of the rights of persons with disability across government.

Compatriots and friends,

While we have made progress in addressing matters affecting people with disabilities, we also acknowledge that some progress has been made in some areas, for example education.

We have emphasised access to basic education for children with disability.

The Department of Basic Education continues to work hard to reach children who are still excluded from education, in line with South Africa’s obligations in terms of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The department reports that a system for early identification and intervention has been strengthened through key policy documents and strategies such as the Policy on Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support; the Guidelines for Curriculum Differentiation and the Policy Framework for the Realisation of the Rights of Children with Profound intellectual Disability.

Government policy instruments also include the introduction of a Skills and Vocational Exit Level Qualification for Children with Moderate and Severe Learning Difficulties.

Indeed progress is being made.

The percentage of five year old children with disabilities attending educational institutions is at 83 percent while the percentage of seven to 15 year old children with disabilities attending educational institutions is at 93 percent.

The Department of Basic Education has committed to ensuring that a continuum of support services will be available for all children who experience barriers to learning, including those with disabilities.

Our goal as government is to ensure that by 2021, no children with disabilities will be out of school. They should all be able to attend their local neighbouring schools and receive the necessary support.

Government has also made progress with regards to the introduction of the South African Sign Language curriculum at school level from January 2015.

This is pivotal to ensuring that Deaf South Africans are able to access information and communication.

At a higher education level, the Ministry of Higher Education and Training, working in collaboration with the disability sector, continues to promote access to post school education and training for young persons with disabilities, needs our support.

More than six thousand eight hundred and fifty (6,850) students with disabilities have been enrolled at higher education institutions.

We are also pleased that over two thousand eight hundred (2,800) have been enrolled at TVET Colleges in 2014.

We have also directed the Department of Transport to ensure that public transport systems are universally designed to provide access and safety for all commuters. This is critical in ensuring independence and mobility for persons with disabilities.

Government has also prioritised access to social assistance for persons with disability in need.

Social grants do not meet all the needs of current recipients. However, they go a long way in contributing toward household income equity for persons with disabilities and their families.

The work currently being done on the economics and cost of disability, will contribute to reforms in this regard.

Access to disability specific services, assistive devices and technology has also improved over the past 20 years. However, provinces must continue to strengthen this area of work. The sector should work with provinces in this regard.

More work must also be done to promote access to alternative communication services, including Braille.

Cabinet has directed that the establishment of a government braille printing works be accelerated.

While government has made steady progress in our employment equity performance for persons with disabilities over the past 15 years, it has been too slow.

Within government, we have impressed upon departments to work harder towards the target of two percent in their staff complements. The promotion of rights of people with disabilities must be achieved in the private sector as well, it is not only government departments and entities that must comply.

We also need to work harder together to remove stereotypes and superstition that has proven to be detrimental to persons with disabilities.

We have been encouraged that the killers of Miss Thandazile Mpunza, a young woman with albinism who was reportedly killed for her body parts, have been brought to book.

It is a good demonstration that our justice system works effectively and that communities and courts will not tolerate human rights violations against persons with disabilities.

We need to spread the message that people with albinism have rights like any other South African. They must be treated with respect and dignity.

They are also entitled to full protection by the law and by our law enforcement agencies. Our communities should also provide protection, and participate in awareness campaigns about albinism.

Compatriots and friends,

I have today also convened the inaugural meeting of the Presidential Disability Working Group.

We will reflect on issues that we think the Working Group should address and the role that we believe it should play in promoting the mission of building a united, non-sexist, non-racial and prosperous society.

The Working Group provides a platform as well for us to work together as the sector and government, so that we are able to focus on creating a better life for ordinary persons with disabilities and their families.


The development of the Disability Rights Policy was a collaborative effort.

It would have been an impossible task without the active participation of organisations working in the disability sector and our institutions promoting democracy and disability rights.

We would like to acknowledge the generous contribution by the United Nations, through the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Multi-Party Fund.

We thank the United Nations Agencies in South Africa for the technical and financial support provided over the past three years to bring us to this point.

Esteemed delegates,

Let us focus our deliberations, keeping in mind the need to change the lives of children, women, young persons and older persons with disabilities living in poverty in deep rural communities.

Let us commit ourselves to working even harder to advance the rights promoted by the new policy.

I wish you a successful Summit.

I also look forward to a fruitful meeting of the Presidential Working Group this morning, and to a strong partnership between government and the disabled community.

I thank you.

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