For Mboweni's growth plan to succeed the ANC has to give up certain dogmatic positions that were formulated when 7% growth was the status quo, writes Adriaan Basson.
People with intellectual disabilities are quite capable of living lives that are meaningful and happy but this only takes place through implementation, education and activism, writes Nicole Breen.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as
"…a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own
potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and
fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community…"
This describes people who are happy and inspiring.
We at the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH)
advocate for the idea that all people – regardless of any mental illness or
disability they may have – deserve no less than the "state of well-being"
contemplated by the WHO, and that anyone can attain this state with the proper
interventions and support, and if they are treated with dignity and respect.
On 20 February 2019, the staff of SAFMH visited the Hamlet
Foundation (Place of Hope) to engage in an exercise with their beneficiaries,
who are individuals with varying degrees of intellectual disability. The
interaction was done in view of March 2019 being Intellectual Disability
Awareness Month. The session we ran with the beneficiaries provided them with
an opportunity to express what made them feel respected and for us to learn
We were struck by the warm greetings we received and the
infectious enthusiasm of the beneficiaries who happily shared their views and
experiences. These, we instantly knew, were people who were in a good state of
mental health – happy, content and passionate about their endeavours at Hamlet.
While they acknowledged their disabilities, they were not in the least caught
up by them and focused instead on what their talents, passions and ambitions were,
clearly indicating what gave them a sense of dignity and pride.
Segri Subrumuny, Hamlet's CEO, told us that the purpose of the
organisation was to uplift and develop people with an intellectual disability
as individuals, as people who "have the same needs as everyone else."
"They want people to listen to them, to communicate
with them with respect and refrain from teasing or making fun of them…as well
as the opportunity to earn an income," she said.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, people with intellectual
disabilities "are not violent, mad, stupid, unfeeling or uncaring people,"
This was borne out by our experience of the Hamlet residents'
genuine excitement to meet and interact with us, and with the vigour with which
they took part in the activities we ran with them– this was inspiring even for
those of us who had worked with such individuals in the past.
While the Hamlet beneficiaries have considerable amenities
and opportunities available to them to learn, work and socialise, many people
with intellectual disabilities are not as fortunate.
With a lack of prioritisation of mental health in general as
well as poor service delivery, lack of support at community level, lack of
opportunities for skills development, the stigma in society as well as service
providers and the remnants of the medical model of disability which can lead to
life-long institutionalisation, many people so situated are left to languish.
Many are doomed to fall into the poverty trap and to
experience social exclusion, often with little to no chance of escape. While much
has been done to ameliorate the plight of such individuals by the state and
non-governmental organisations – including the promulgation of law and policy
such as the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan 2013-2020
and, for instance, the campaigns of SAFMH and other organisations – many people
with intellectual disabilities remain underserved, caught in a seemingly endless
labyrinth in which they face dead end after dead end.
considered a luxury
So what can be done? The difficulty with this question is
that the idea of good mental health is considered a luxury – particularly for
the indigent or those who struggle to advocate for themselves, which is often
the reality for people with intellectual disabilities.
The budgetary allocations for mental health in various governmental
departments are in general miniscule and the state seems to operate on the
basis of putting out fires and reacting in ways that, as in the Life Esidimeni tragedy,
only exacerbate matters, instead of taking proactive steps to improve the
mental health of the people of the country.
Mental health has long been referred to as the "Cinderella"
of South Africa's health crises – an issue that is neglected and largely
ignored. But it's not all doom and gloom. The fairy tale had a happy ending
after all, and Cinderella was spared her fate of wanton neglect.
It is the hope of SAFMH that this will be the case for
mental health in general. People, especially society's most vulnerable – such
as people with intellectual disabilities – deserve an opportunity to live to
their fullest potential.
If we want to uplift people with intellectual disabilities
we have to take a multi-pronged approach. SAFMH believes that there are certain
salient factors that must be present in order to accomplish this feat. The
primary duty-bearer in this scenario is the state. Government must create a
climate conducive to the protection and empowerment of these individuals. This
does not only denote the creation of structures such as a legal framework but
requires concrete implementation of law and policy.
While the former is largely in place, the latter is pitifully
lacking. Comprehensive documents such as Education White Paper 6: Special Needs
Education, Building an Inclusive Education System (2001) often merely gather
dust, rendering them moot and meaningless.
If we are to attain a true state of constitutional
democracy, a paper exercise alone simply will not do. The prescripts of the
Constitution, as well as enabling legislation, take cognisance of both the
vulnerability of people such as those with intellectual disability as well as
their need for autonomy – but neither of these goals will be met unless
concrete stefps are taken to translate such rights into reality.
Despite the obligation of the state to implement legal
imperatives, there also exist moral imperatives for which society ought to take
responsibility. This includes community-based organisations caring for people
with intellectual disabilities to do the work they have undertaken and provide
for and protect people.
It also includes family members and members of the community
educating themselves about intellectual disability so that they can give their
loved ones the best life possible. Education dispels stigma and in the absence
of stigma people with intellectual disabilities are more likely to not only survive
but thrive, leading to improved outcomes for these individuals.
Once empowered by knowledge, communities can go on to get
involved in activities that include persons with intellectual disability who
deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and afforded as many
opportunities as possible. Communities, even those with very little resources
available to them can engage in activities like walks in aid of people with
intellectual disability or by providing employment to such individuals.
Intellectual disability need not be a life sentence. People
with intellectual disabilities are quite capable of living lives that are
meaningful, happy and fulfilling but it is only through implementation,
education and activism that this can take place. Let us work together to
achieve these goals.
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