Having a disability is a violent and brutal experience
3 Sep 2020
By Masingita Masunga
It is a painful experience to watch the mother of Nathaniel Julius and the pain she is going through during a time and month that has not been easy across every corner of South Africa.
The story of Nathaniel, as it got news coverage and highlighted the frustration, pain and hard relationships communities have with the SA Police Service, was yet again a stark reminder of how a mother carries and cares a lot during pregnancy. Her story reminded me of my own story of how my mother thought it was a miracle for her to be pregnant with me and giving birth to me, after being initially told after a miscarriage there were slim chances.
Nathaniel was just 16 years old and he had down syndrome — his mother had to endure raising a child in a society where many discriminate.
Due to negligence when I was born, my mother’s pain was that of raising a child who was brain-damaged, over and above the stigma attached to people with disabilities that they are not human enough. One of the questions still haunting my mother even after 41 years is “N’wana loyi mi ngu endle yini?”- What have you done to this child? It is hard enough that your child has a disability but why would a mother be blamed for it?
The Julius family has had to probably deal with a stigmatized societal attitude in a South African society that has normalized violence, even directed at those with disabilities. One can never conclusively say Nathaniel’s violent and cruel death was not a culmination of how he lived as a person with a disability. Looking at various profiles of Nathaniel expressing how he has been misunderstood and undermined, even to the day when his life was brutally ended. As a black woman who happens to have a disability, I know what misunderstood and undermined feels like, I live this.
Do I speak about being overlooked, bypassed, degraded, dehumanized, rejected, being treated like a child, and reduced to a second-class citizen?
On Tuesday I was part of a panel and I was also unveiled as the Vodacom Foundation ambassador, the topic was: Surviving GBV. I did not share any experience of GBV from an intimate relationship or rape, I shared from surviving Ableism, which is another form of violent and oppressive behavior, a discrimination many of us deal with daily and everywhere.
When I was asked to be on the panel, my mind started racing because I did not know where to start.
Do I start with the government which has great policies on disability but has broken and traumatized some of us to the point that we know should we continue to engage with them for empowerment we might end up being completely shattered, so we have given up. Do I talk about Life Esidimeni which was a reflection of our society’s attitudes towards disability, let’s be honest with ourselves for once, those in power who took the Life Esidimeni decisions have been equipped, taught and influenced by society over the years to devalue people with disabilities, they just pulled the trigger (this does not take away from the fact that there must be consequences for gambling with people’s lives).
Do I talk about the fact that those younger than us are called Sesi, Buti, Aunty, etc but not us because we have disabilities, so we do not deserve respect? Do I talk about the fact that none of our political parties have the will to address issues of disability openly and truthfully, they still give the condescending and patronizing approach to us? Do I talk about how some people treat us as if we are invisible in our presence, they speak about, and to us as if we are non-entities? Do I speak about being overlooked, bypassed, degraded, dehumanized, rejected, being treated like a child, and reduced to a second-class citizen? The list is endless, violent and the disrespect never stops, I cannot even begin to say the psychological and emotional damage that it causes.
Nathaniel lived and was haunted by the monster of ableism, the same vicious monster that took his young life away.
Those interacting with the likes of me should ask themselves how do they treat and speak to a 41-year old woman who is in the same position and situation that I am except for the disability? If you are treating me differently, then you are being an ableist. However because I know that human behavior is hard to change or admit to, you can continue with your pity and sympathy as long as it comes with equal opportunity, luxury car, exquisite shoes, and travel I don’t mind.
The tragic death of Nathaniel should prompt everyone to look in the mirror where disability is concerned. Pity and sympathy for Nathaniel’s family will only be effective if it comes as a currency to make their lives better and improve their livelihood. Nathaniel lived and was haunted by the monster of ableism, the same vicious monster that took his young life away.
#JusticeforNathanielJulius must start with a change of attitude towards people with disabilities and those close to us.
Masingita Masunga is a TV show host.
#IamNathanielJulius #JusticeforNathanielJulius #DisabilityLivesMatter #IamHumanToo