Address at the Africa Regional Disability
Johannesburg, 6th May 2003
Minister Essop Pahad,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you very much for making it possible for me to
be part of the closing session of this important conference
on disability, the Disability African Regional Consultative
I hope that our visitors had a good stay in our country
and would take memorable experiences back home.
I am confident that the deliberations that have taken
place in the last few days and the outcome of this meeting,
would assist all of us to make the necessary progress
in improving the quality of life of disabled persons
and ensure that we improve our work in promoting, protecting
and advancing the rights of disabled persons.
We are almost half way through the African Decade of
Persons with Disabilities, which as we know, was adopted
in 1999 by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
I therefore hope that this conference has given us
an opportunity to make a review of the progress that
we have made as government, civil society and private
I am sure we would all agree that to respond adequately
to the challenges of disabled persons, we must address
critical issues such as:
Wars, instabilities and conflicts;
Lack of human rights, justice and peace;
Abuse of vulnerable groups in society, including disabled
persons, women and children;
Homelessness and inadequate shelter and housing;
Lack of sanitation, health facilities and services;
Absence of facilities and programmes for persons with
all types of disabilities, including physical, psychiatric
Lack of jobs and economic development;
Lack of education and access to educational institutions,
Numerous others that characterise the conditions of
It is important, therefore, that we must continue to
understand the foundation of the work that we are doing
in this sector as the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights as adopted by the United Nations in 1948.
As we know, the United Nations has, since 1948 adopted
many declarations and resolutions dealing with specific
areas that affect disabled persons.
Accordingly, for us to address the needs of the persons
with disabilities, we must, at the same time, fulfill
our obligations with regard to the realisation of the
human rights of our citizens.
While many regions of the world have made progress
with their developmental challenges, since 1948, we,
on the African continent have, in many respects regressed
further and further into underdevelopment.
The reasons for this are well-known. The consequence
of this underdevelopment has been that we have been
unable to attend fully to the social, political and
economic rights of our citizens.
A further consequence has been the marginalisation
and impoverishment of people with disabilities.
Clearly, for us as Africans, it is urgent that we attend
to all these needs to accelerate the process of our
rebirth and ensure that we pull ourselves from the morass
of poverty and underdevelopment.
It is in this context that we approach the issues of
disability, both as the challenges of themselves as
well as part of the broader challenge of the reconstruction
and development of our continent.
Undoubtedly, the work that you are doing in this sector
is directly related to the overall efforts to face the
challenges of peace, stability, democracy and development
on the African continent.
Accordingly, it is unavoidable that, as we make the
review of our work in this sector and plan further programmes
that would help us realise the objectives of the African
Decade of Persons with Disabilities, we would have to
reflect on the work that we are doing together to regenerate
our countries and continent.
We would have to link our efforts to the programmes
and initiatives that the African Union (AU), is doing
through the New Partnership for Africa's Development
I am told that there are about 80 million persons with
disabilities on our continent and that in most countries
one out of ten persons has one form or another of disability,
and that this number is growing.
A painful addition to these numbers was the senseless,
brutal and inhuman maiming of many people in Sierra
Leone, Liberia, the countries of the Great Lakes Region,
Sudan and Angola.
As we have, said through the New Partnership, we seek
to regenerate our countries individually and collectively
and set our continent on a sustainable development path.
This, as we know, cannot be achieved in conditions of
war, instability and conflict.
We therefore have to continue working hard to bring
peace and stability to all our countries because war
and conflict affect people with disabilities more than
any sector of our society.
We need peace and stability because it will benefit
all our people and give us the chance to realise the
objectives of this important Decade of the persons with
There is no doubt that when we have brought peace and
stability to our countries we would be better able to
address the needs of our societies, specifically of
the disabled persons, including, democracy, human dignity,
justice and development.
Indeed, we need democracy because it gives all our
citizens the opportunity to influence national policies
and accordingly ensure that the government responds
to our collective demands.
In this way, we are able, as the people, to advance
the rights and needs of persons with disabilities. Clearly,
we need to entrench democracy on our continent because
a truly democratic government would ensure that it attends
to the needs of its people, especially those with disabilities.
We know from our experience that we cannot fully enjoy
human dignity and justice, when these rights are denied
to any section among our societies.
In this context, the on-going efforts of the African
people to consolidate democracy, human rights and justice
must and will benefit particularly this important sector
of our society.
It is important that as we make periodic reviews, all
of us should ask a question whether we have developed
the appropriate policy and legislative frameworks to
ensure that disability issues are indeed at the centre
of the work of our governments.
Have we, in all our countries ensured that government,
civil society and the private sector, have created conditions
for the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities?
Can we honestly respond in the affirmative as to whether
we have mobilized the entirety of our societies to respond
positively to the needs of persons with disabilities?
For us to attain the goals of the African Decade of
Persons with Disabilities, we have to make great progress
in ensuring that disabled persons lead normal lives,
and, have easy access to rehabilitation, housing, health
facilities, education, training and employment as well
as sports and cultural activities.
I am encouraged by the fact that the organisations
of disabled persons have relentlessly pursuit the objectives
of this Decade even in the face of formidable obstacles.
Obviously, in taking this work forward we have to organise
all sectors in our countries. This is not a task that
is facing only people with disabilities, but all the
people in our countries.
At the same time, there has been concern about the
existence of disunity among some structures of the disabled
persons. At times, this is due to work been done solely
and exclusively around specific types of disabilities.
While there is always a need to ensure specific focus
so as to ensure appropriate responses, it would, at
the same time be better to work for maximum unity for
the entire sector so as to bring about the required
We come from countries with varying degrees of development,
which would invariably affect the speed with which we
address these many challenges.
It is therefore important that we work closely with
our continental body, the African Union, particularly
the Commission on Human and People's Rights, so as to
have a unified approach to our challenges.
The South African government will host the secretariat
of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities.
We will do everything in our power !retariat to function
normally and effectively.
Once more, I am happy that you have convened in South
Africa to work out for all us this important programme
that must give impetus to this important Decade of disabled
I thank you.