A leader for people with disabilities

Looks Matoto

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s campaign to ascend to the ANC’s top post has shown that she is the only one who is reaching out to people with disabilities and issues affecting them.

Sisulu’s campaign message, “Connecting the dots and checking for the missing ones, all on board leaving no one behind”, is one that is inclusive of people with disabilities.

By reaching out to people with disabilities she gives credence to the call for women leadership, as it shows that here is a mother who embraces people who have been neglected for a long time and as a result have been victims of poverty and disease.

The history of people with disabilities in political participation has been characterised by disability exclusion and the view that they have no capacity to participate in the production of political knowledge and activity. People with disabilities are seen only as grant recipients.

It is in the process of struggling against apartheid that some met with disability, when we were waging a war against an inhumane system that was producing disability daily through bullets. Some were run over by SA Defence Force Nyalas and lost limbs. Comrade Oliver Tambo, the father of our struggle, acquired a disability in the process of the struggle.

The likes of Harry Gwala, Oscar Mpetha, Siphiwo Mthimkhulu and others never allowed their disabilities to restrict their political participation. They remained active and the enemy never saw them as less of a threat. Some acquired disabilities from injuries caused by parcel bombs and grenades while in exile. These are realities Sisulu knows up close and personal, because she was there through it all.

To people with disabilities, your time has come to be at the forefront of economic activity, through a president that will see you not as annexes or second thoughts. Many people with disabilities remain unemployed while they live in a time where everything requires a basic income.

Women with disabilities remain neglected and are excluded from many economic activities women are encouraged to participate in.

People with albinism are hunted like animals and brutally butchered. The tragic deaths of people with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities after the termination of the government’s contract with Life Esidimeni remains a black spot on our freedom, and Minister Sisulu is sensitive to this tragedy and believes that never again should such an event happen in a democratic society.

Those who become disabled are likely to lose their jobs, and those born with disabilities are even more likely to be unemployed, which increases their chances of being unable to secure food. Those who experience poverty are also prone to preventable diseases and malnutrition, which can result in disability.

Under the leadership of Sisulu, disability issues will be reinstated to the presidency – a cry from people with disabilities that has long been ignored.

We call on all of you who have lost hope in politics, those who feel sidelined: come let us rebuild. The ANC is our home, we cannot abandon it because it has been vandalised. Here is a woman who says, yes, we have lost our ways and disappointed you, we have made you angry and we have made you cry, we have made you lose all hope, we have seen how you are hurt, for we know your love for the ANC. Come let us build and cover lost ground, it is only you that can make things better. Come, my comrade, this hour needs you still.

We call on you because you know the movement best, you sacrificed your limb for our struggle, you lost your loved ones and continue to carry scars that are a constant reminder that we have come a long way, let us go back to our promise and never leave one another again.

Our living stalwarts deserve to see us recover from this pain, so that when they depart, they depart with joy knowing that we will not bury the ANC that was built with blood sweat and tears. Never again must our stalwarts suffer neglect and go to the grave like Uncle Kathy, with a painful heart. When we leave this world, what report do we bring to Tambo who kept the ANC united and made it stronger and bigger during trying times in exile?

We owe it to ourselves to change the way things are, let us bring back the comradeship that we used to have. We would die for one another, and most of all, we would die for the ANC like many gallant fighters of our glorious people’s army. These are the experiences that bind us together, these are the pages of history that lie on the floor.

Matoto is the national deputy chair for human rights at Disabled People SA

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