Address by Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad
on Disability Awareness Day, 05 September 2003
Ladies and Gentlemen
As Patron of the Disability Forum of the Department
of Foreign Affairs, it is a great pleasure to address
this gathering on 2003 Disability Awareness Day.
For the past number of years, the Department has set
aside the first Friday in September to highlight the
potential, opportunities and challenges of colleagues
with disabilities. It is my earnest wish that today's
events will further promote the acceptance of people
with disabilities as normal and valuable members of
the DFA team, dedicated, like the rest of us, to the
attainment of South Africa's foreign policy objectives,
and with important contributions to make in this regard.
With our stated foreign policy objective of support
for NEPAD and the upliftment of the African continent,
it is important that we also pay attention to the challenges
faced by the estimated 80 million disabled people in
Africa. While many regions of the world have made progress
with their developmental challenges since 1984, we on
the African continent have in many respects regressed
further and further into underdevelopment. The reasons
for this are well known. The consequences 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 marginilisation and
impoverishment of people with disabilities. We are almost
half way through the African Decade of Persons with
Disabilities, which was adopted by the OAU in 1999.
It is in this context that we approach the issue of
disability, both as challenge of themselves as well
as part of the broader challenge of the reconstruction
and development of our continent.
However, in order to respond adequately to the challenges
of disabled persons, we must address critical issues
· Wars, instabilities and conflicts (wars in
Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda and Burundi added significantly
to the number of disabled persons on the African continent)
· Lack of Human Rights, justice and peace
· Abuse of Vulnerable people 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 and developmental
· Lack of jobs and economic development and
· Lack of education and access to educational
Since our democratisation process, the Government realised
that the disadvantaged status of women and people with
disabilities, accumulated over centuries, could not
be erased overnight. Action had to be taken to level
the playing-field and to give these historically disadvantaged
people a fair opportunity in the struggle for survival
in a competitive world. It was with this in mind that
the Government, in 1998 and 2000, passed legislation
which included people with disabilities as a "designated
group". This meant that Government undertook to
make a special effort to affirm and promote the interests
of people with disabilities in the work-place and in
society in general.
The Department of Foreign affairs met this challenge
in several ways. In the first place, it set up the DFA
Disability Forum - an advisory body which would give
a voice to people with disabilities in the Department.
The Disability Forum consists of colleagues with disabilities,
as well as of able-bodied members of the Department
who are interested in helping to promote the total normalisation
of the position of colleagues with disabilities.
In 2001, the Forum, together with Human Resources,
drew up a business plan, constitution and policy guidelines
for the employment, promotion and posting of employees
with disabilities. In terms of these documents, the
Department set itself the objective of raising the number
of people with disabilities in the Department to 2%
by 2005. In addition, these documents state that at
least 2% of foreign postings should go to people with
· As spelt out in the Department's Employment
Equity Plan, section 7, quotas will not simply be filled
on the lower levels, but, where justified by merit,
the Department will attempt to spread the 2 percent
target throughout the various ranks, including senior
· Also, Subparagraph 7.8.1 (iii) of the same
document states that, "Where the disabled candidate
for the position has at least equal merit with any other
candidate or shows equal potential to develop the required
skills, the disabled candidate will be appointed."
People with disabilities desire no more than this.
They are eager to emphasise that they want only to be
given a fair opportunity in the work-place. They are
keen to play an active and meaningful role in their
environment and to contribute to the well-being of those
around them. Countless overseas studies have shown that
people with disabilities, when given the necessary support,
are generally reliable and hard workers. They are prepared
to walk the extra mile to surmount their disability.
To help them in this task, the Department has, for
some time now, provided physically impaired people with
assistive equipment. This, however, has taken place
on an ad hoc basis and needs to extended and made available
more freely to all disabled persons within the department.
It is the rapid improvement of technical aids for people
with disabilities that have enabled them to accomplish
what has been unheard of before. There is still great
misunderstanding with regard to what people with disabilities
are capable of. How many people know that there are
visually impaired diplomats in the US and South Africa,
several university Professors in Germany, Legal Practitioners
in the UK, the US and South Africa, visually impaired
Judges in Germany and South Africa, blind computer scientists
and newspaper reporters all over the world, a visually
impaired Professor of Political Science at UNISA, two
former South African movement-impaired Heads of Mission
and a blind Cabinet Minister in the UK?
On 7 May this year, President Mbeki addressing a conference
on people with disabilities in Africa, suggested that
a watchdog body may have to be set up to ensure the
implementation of legislation intended to advance the
position of people with disabilities in society. Legislation,
the President said, was by itself not enough. Care had
to be taken that good intentions found expression in
the real world.
For its part, the Department of Foreign Affairs will
see to it that this warning by the President is not
ignored. We have already come some way in realising
our plans towards the levelling of the playing-field.
It is our firm intention to proceed on this path and
to make sure that our colleagues with disabilities,
too, get their place in the sun.