July 15, 2024
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By Simon Manda

The election platforms of the main political parties running for South African leadership in 2024 provide insight into the importance each party places on disability rights and inclusion.

Looking at the disability-related clauses in each party’s manifesto reveals a wide range of approaches; some go into detail while others hardly touch the topic.

This article will analyse the disability promises made by eleven of the major parties contesting,  how those promises could affect people with disabilities, and then reflect on what the big picture means for disability rights in South Africa’s political agenda.

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The Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) manifesto is notable for its “Plan of Action on Disabilities,” which includes 23 specific promises and is the most comprehensive disability plan. To encourage people with disabilities to become economically independent, there are measures in place such as job quotas and reasonable accommodation requirements in both the public and private sectors. Additionally, the EFF promises to equip public institutions with sign language abilities, incorporate disability studies into the school curriculum, and back a strong disability rights movement based on the premise of “nothing about us without us.”

The EFF has pledged to hold the president personally responsible for the advancement of equal opportunity for people with disabilities, as part of a comprehensive government effort. Aiming to remove obstacles to independent life and full involvement, measures such as universal design of public buildings, amenities, and transport are being implemented. Additionally, there will be a state-run manufacturing facility for assistive products and postgraduate scholarships tailored specifically for people with disabilities. If put into action, this comprehensive strategy has the potential to revolutionise the way people with disabilities are included in South African society.

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Disability inclusion is one of just three designated policy areas in Rise Mzansi’s manifesto, indicating a significant commitment to the cause. Rise Mzansi, like the EFF, is dedicated to ensuring that people with disabilities have access to housing, transportation, and infrastructure so that they can live freely and safely. The group’s stated goal is to “build a culture of consciousness about and care for people with disabilities” through the educational system. Ensuring disability inclusion as a mandatory priority throughout government programmes could be achieved by setting norms, standards, and targets for satisfying disability rights across all policy domains. This would be a big change for the disabled community, moving them from the margins of policymaking to the centre stage.

Though less extensive than the EFF’s and Rise Mzansi’s, the Africa National Congress’s (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) disability policies are nonetheless included in their respective agendas. Among the ANC’s pledges is a broader defence of the rights of people with disabilities as a vulnerable group, the monitoring of disability employment equity, and increased support for disabled entrepreneurs. Although they are a step in the right direction, these plans fall short of what the EFF and Rise Mzansi have in store.

At the ANC Siyanqoba Rally in Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium, President Cyril Ramaphosa reaffirmed the government’s dedication to empowering women, young people, and people with disabilities to run their own enterprises. He vowed that the ANC would keep pushing for and keeping tabs on job equity until black people, women, and people with disabilities are well-represented in all fields of work. Children, the elderly, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and young people are among the most marginalised groups in South Africa, and Ramaphosa emphasised the ANC’s commitment to fighting for their rights and dignity.

The DA’s main goal is to make disability subsidies and accessible education more accessible to students with impairments. While these do constitute a portion of the disability inclusion agenda, they are nonetheless crucial.

Among lesser-known parties, Action SA’s platform includes disability-focused demands for increased funding for special education, improved access to healthcare, and sign language services in medical clinics.

The Freedom Front Plus has called for full recognition of South African Sign Language and more financing for disability services, both of which would improve the accessibility and capacity of these programmes.

Special needs schooling is the only area in which the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has pledged to support people with disabilities.

It is even more worrisome that the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Patriotic Alliance, and Mkhonto weSizwe (MK) Veterans’ Party do not even mention disabilities once in their manifesto extracts. Disability advocates may be able to use this information to their advantage by reaching out to these parties and asking how disability rights factor into their policy agendas.

Several parties have made disability inclusion a higher political priority in their platforms compared to past elections, which is encouraging to observe in the manifesto landscape. The wide range of topics discussed demonstrates that the parties have come to recognise the complex forms of marginalisation that people with disabilities suffer. These include employment, entrepreneurship, education, healthcare, social protection, transportation, housing, and political engagement, among many others. People with disabilities need systematic and proactive changes, not simply reactive fixes, and the fact that accessibility, reasonable accommodation, and changing social attitudes are getting a lot of attention is a sign of that.

If the ambitious and multi-sectoral ideas put out by Rise Mzansi and the EFF come to fruition, life-altering changes may be possible for the more than 4 million disabled South Africans. Major obstacles to disabled people’s economic, social, and political participation might be eliminated with proposals such as accessible transportation and communications, a state infrastructure for manufacturing assistive devices, and public employment that is equitable for people with disabilities. People with disabilities would have a stronger say in governance if they were guaranteed representation in democratic forums and the “nothing about us without us” concept was firmly established. Recognising the diversity within the disability population, efforts are being made to address subgroups that are disproportionately affected, such as women, youth, rural inhabitants, and individuals with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.

Nevertheless, the degree to which these manifesto pledges are carried out will determine their influence. While disability rights law in South Africa is on the progressive side, there are still gaps in how policies are translated into real gains for people with impairments. The winning parties must ensure that their campaign promises are accompanied by sufficient funding, strong institutions, and systems for monitoring and accountability. It will be critical to have people with disabilities and their advocacy groups actively and consistently involved in determining how these promises are carried out.

Additionally, the manifesto promises have room to be expanded upon and elaborated upon. Although numerous groups have pledged to work towards an inclusive education system, there must be greater focus on helping disabled students make the leap from elementary school to college and the workforce. There must be more funding for community-based programmes for people with disabilities, especially in rural regions. Party platforms should integrate disability-inclusive strategies for addressing critical issues such as adaptation to climate change, disaster risk reduction, and migration.

To sum up, disability rights are becoming more prominent in South Africa’s political rhetoric as we approach the 2024 election. With their comprehensive, cross-sectoral, and cross-level disability inclusion programmes, parties like as the EFF and Rise Mzansi have raised the standard. Having disability issues and goals highlighted so extensively in the platforms of national leadership candidates is, without a question, a huge deal for disabled people.

But campaign pledges aren’t assurances of anything. Those fighting for people with disabilities must keep pushing for the parties to deliver on their promises and work together to decide how they are put into action. The real litmus test will be how much of the increased political focus on disability leads to real policies changes, financial promises, and quantifiable improvements in the conditions of people with disabilities. It will be a significant step forward for people with disabilities in South Africa if the dreams of disability inclusion put forth by organizations like Rise Mzansi and the EFF come to pass.

Disability activists in South Africa have a chance to make their voices heard in the upcoming 2024 elections by banding together to hold candidates to their manifesto promises and put disability issues front and centre on the national agenda. South Africa can take a step closer to an inclusive, barrier-free future if the disability rights movement actively participates in disability plans, closely monitors their execution, and advocates for their objectives and experiences. Many 2024 manifestos have laid the groundwork; it is up to disability rights activists, their supporters, and every citizen to water the seedlings so they may blossom into sweeping reform.

 

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