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The challenges we face disable us, not that we are disabled

14 May 2019

By Mpho Tjope

“Many of us were getting ready to make our voice heard by casting our votes on this cold Wednesday of May 8, because South Africa has 25 years of a democratic system where everyone can cast their votes regardless of colour, impairment, or even religion.

I was too young to vote in 1994 but I have seen footages indicating very long queues so long. That was not the case at Mapetla Primary School, Soweto where I went to vote.

Reports indicate that over 70% of South Africans are between the ages 15 and 34 which means that political parties need to impress the youth. We don’t want to hear about apartheid, but what the parties are doing or can do for us now.

When I arrived at the polling station, I noticed that there were two lines, one specifically for the elderly and those with impairments.

I approached a gentleman using a wheelchair as I wanted to know what his views were and whether he would be willing to tell me who he was voting for. He agreed, as long as he remained anonymous.

‘I am voting EFF as the current government is not treating people with disabilities properly,’ he said. ‘We are unemployed, but they want us to be respected. They give us learnerships which pay peanuts but they expect us to be happy.

‘I mean we have been deprived of so many opportunities, and they give us R3000-R3500 yet we must struggle with transport, food, and raise families with that. This tells me they really don’t know how we live, how we struggle.

I use Uber to travel around. I need a helper. How is that amount to make me independent? So I’ll vote EFF and hopefully they will keep their promises,” the gentleman said.

I then approached another gentleman but we had a communication barrier as I was unable to understand sign language. Even when I tried to find someone to interpret, I could not find anyone.

Sadly we parted ways with me wondering how his day-to-day challenges are addressed if in the township we struggle to understand him, and how frustrating it must be for him. This made me realise that the challenges we face disable us, not that we are disabled.

Because I am registered in Northern Cape, I was only able to vote in the national ballot, not the provincial one.

As I left the voting station, it was with a bit of sadness as there is more to be done, but hopeful that the party I had voted for would fix the issues around disabilities. I felt confident that at the end of five years, we would have covered more ground than today.