Address by hon. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister in The Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities during a webinar on upholding the rights of persons with disabilities
Honourable Deputy Minister Mkhize
Honourable Deputy Minister Capa
Distinguished Representatives of Persons with Disabilities in South Africa and across our African Continent
Representatives of the United Nations Development Partners
Distinguished Leaders of Organisations of and for Persons with Disabilities
Members of the Presidential Working Group on Disabilities
Members of the Portfolio Committee
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my honour to welcome you all to this important webinar meeting on upholding the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under the overarching theme “Persons with Disabilities and COVID-19 South Africa”
You will recall that the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities has been tasked with the overall mandate to drive the transformative national agenda that will create a South Africa which is truly inclusive of Persons with Disabilities.
Sadly, the invisible enemy of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of human kind. The worst impact of the pandemic is certainly felt by the most vulnerable of our people.
In this regard, Persons with Disabilities are more likely to be affected by poverty, experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse during these trying times.
As Government, we need to put Persons with Disabilities at the centre of our response to COVID-19. All recovery efforts need to include engagement and consultation with this sector.
We will utilise the valuable experience offered by Persons with Disabilities in order to thrive during these difficult period.
I believe that looking to the future, we have a unique opportunity to design and implement more inclusive and accessible societies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is my conviction that when we secure the rights of Person with Disabilities, we are investing in our common future.
The Department I lead is responsible for monitoring compliance with the rights of Persons with Disabilities during the National State of Disaster and Lock Down. Working together, we must make sure we leave no one behind.
We are gathered here today to conduct an interface dialogue as a direct result of the disability specific interventions undertaken by both Government and civil society across services and infrastructure within the COVID 19 responses.
South Africa is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Our Cabinet has approved the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Implementation Matrix in 2015. All the above instrument emphasise the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.
I believe that all National State of Disaster plans and Lock Down period plans should ensure the inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.
Government interventions at policy and legislative levels included the implementation of reasonable accommodation measures for the protection and safety of persons with disabilities during the national state of disaster and for the duration of the lockdown.
The guidelines issued by the Department provided clear indicators on the mainstreaming of disability measures in the activities, services, projects and programs of COVID-19 responses.
A reporting template is being developed to track the spending of the 500 billion fiscal support packages that includes spending towards COVID-19 priorities.
The template is meant to track spending in respect of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, to various aspects of the fiscal response packages.
Some of these measures included in the regulations of the Disaster Management Act, alert levels were done, following wide consultations with the disability sector. The clarion call of Persons with Disabilities is “nothing about us without us” and as Government, we take that very seriously.
I have informed my colleagues in the Departments of Social Development, Health and Basic Education, on all issues raised in the letters you sent to the Department and how these impact you in your private and public spaces during the lockdown period.
In this context, specific measures are in place to consider universal design and reasonable accommodation as legal requirements and obligations regarding screening, testing and quarantine sites for accessibility purposes.
Furthermore, training of staff in residential facilities for persons with disabilities has been conducted and inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the distribution of food parcels.
This is done through a knock and drop system at their homes and places of residence to mitigate the circumstances that may lead to starvation and the Department of Social Development has led these processes effectively and efficiently.
In addition, specific days for disbursement of disability grants and care dependency grants for children with disabilities have been arranged with the Department of Social Development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Key priorities for COVID-19 related activities have been concluded. Consensus has to be reached through this webinar to include those interventions in the broader scope of COVID-19 programs and services.
Essential information is provided for in the Government and Communications System (GCIS) page. The page is dedicated to disability to support efforts across government to include persons with disabilities in all the work streams of the national command centre.
Accordingly, all organisations are invited to send content through that page as it can assist all persons with disabilities during this difficult time.
The gender tracking matrix includes women with disabilities concerns and gender based violence measures to protect and ensure their safety. The Department is also developing a disability tracking tool to ensure that all COVID-19 priorities are monitored closely.
The Department of Basic Education made resource materials to support learners with Autism. The material was shared with provincial education departments, parents and disability formations, as a stop-gap mechanism.
We commend Autism South Africa for offering counselling services to parents and caregivers. Parents and caregivers have been provided with the relevant contact details for Autism South Africa through the departments of social development, basic education and GCIS respectively.
Services and materials for learners who are blind have been made available in collaboration with Blind SA. We commend the organisation for this support. Provincial departments also had their own support materials catering for learners with various disabilities.
This first webinar provides Persons with Disabilities with a platform to strengthen constructive engagement with various stakeholders within the work streams process of the national command centre in order to improve disability inclusion in the COVID-19 disability response plan.
The key priorities include amongst others COVID-19 interventions and legislative amendments.
The provision of services include access to information and communications, provision of essential goods such as sanitary dignity packs, provision of personal protective equipment’s and food parcels in various centres across provinces.
Disability mainstreaming and inclusion in the COVID-19 response plan has complied with the World Health Organisation’s protocols on disability related matters.
Specific steps have been taken by the Department to ensure that regulatory disability specific aspects of the National Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 mainstream disability from a human rights and developmental perspective.
The Department also deployed senior officials in the public health containment, economic, legal and social impact work streams to ensure disability inclusion. These work streams feed into the various National Joint Committees to support the work of the National Corona Command Council.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I will engage Persons with Disabilities in the arts and creative industries, who have sharply raised their concerns in order to find urgent solutions to assist them during the duration of the lockdown period.
The Department has contributed immensely in providing guidance in the directions of different departments for purposes of managing disability mainstreaming under strict adherence to regulations.
Within the economic sector, the Department has placed emphasis on employment and labour matters affecting Persons with Disabilities. Economic opportunities are currently available and include but not limited to disaster relief opportunities, tax relief measures as well as economic interventions in SMME business development for persons with disabilities.
The Department is also providing South African Sign language interpretation for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired community in all media briefings by all Ministers and the President for access to information purposes.
I therefore want to make a direct appeal to the South African public, to create partnerships that can work towards the protection and safety of Persons with Disabilities.
Caregivers for Persons with Disabilities have been declared as essential services as one of the examples on the intervention of the general public.
Furthermore, it is important to allow Persons with Disabilities to have a voice in decision making processes that affects them directly for purpose of self-representation.
The Department will arrange extra webinars for all levels of the lockdown to consult Persons with Disabilities and strengthen accountability by Government as a duty bearer. I have also instructed my officials to ensure proper and immediate consultations where necessary.
Finally, the progressive realisation of specific rights will be focused on specific exceptions in the Regulations which affect Persons with Disabilities on daily basis within the available resources of the State.
Let’s continue working together to ensure a disability inclusive society.
I thank you!!