National Executive Director of the SA National Council for the Blind, Mr Antonius Spek;
Office Bearers and Members of the National
Executive Committee of the South African
National Council for the Blind;
Representatives of Member Organisations of the
South African National Council for the Blind;
Members of the media;
Ladies and gentlemen
I am delighted and, indeed, very privileged, to be here today to address a very special audience of representatives of the visually inpaired community from all over South Africa.
I would like to express my sincere thanks to the new National Executive Director of the SA National Council for the Blind, Mr Antonius Spek, for his very kind invitation to attend and to address you in the City of Roses, at the “Parliament for the Blind,” as this Biennial Conference is affectionately known.
The Biennial Conference of the SA National Council for the Blind is a major event that takes place every two years in a different province, where vital matters are discussed and a strategy planned for the following two years.
Established in 1929, the Council is a national organisation with nine provincial structures and over hundred member organisations.
Despite many challenges over the years, especially financially, the Council is still going strong and doing its utmost to fulfil its mission to serve, support and facilitate its member organisations in preventing blindness, rehabilitating blind persons, developing communities, and training and educating South Africans with visual impairments.
It is important that when we tell the South African story of the last 21 years, that this story is also the story of the physically challenged and the victories won in terms of infrastructure and other opportunities for physically challenged people.
The great African writer, Ben Okri, says that:
“A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose its moorings or orientation… Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”
When you meet on occasions such as this one, it gives you the opportunity to reflect on your rich history, your present and the future. You are writing the story of your efforts to bring a better life to the visually impaired.
We host this Conference only a few weeks before South Africa launches Disability Rights Awareness Month.
Activities during the Month will provide a platform for government, civil society, business, labour and the media to celebrate, showcase and dialogue on progress made over the past 20 years in promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
This month also serves an opportunity to identify and isolate remaining challenges that hinder the building of inclusive caring societies where the contributions of persons with disabilities are valued and ensured.
Since the Department of Arts and Culture also drives a very strong social cohesion programme, with the purpose of building an inclusive and democratic society devoid of discrimination and stigmatisation, we are therefore able to partner with the Council in fulfilling its mandate and attaining its mission.
Since the activities of the Council are focused on developing the whole person, not just blind people’s reading abilities, I also hope that the Department will be able to assist visually impaired persons in other sectors, such as arts and crafts, dancing, and music, to help everyone to develop their full potential as human beings and as citizens of our beautiful country.
The input of the SA National Council for the Blind in that respect, as an umbrella organisation that interacts with visually impaired persons at the national level, would be much appreciated.
I would therefore like to extend an invitation to the Council and its constituents to engage with the Department regarding participation of visually impaired artists in the broad arts and culture sector, and to raise governance and accountability issues with the Department’s Institutional Governance Directorate, where the latter may be of assistance in resolving sectorial issues.
The national Department of Arts and Culture has been involved for a number of years in assisting the visually impaired sector of South African society, mainly in two ways: through the sustained funding of the South African Library for the Blind in Grahamstown, and the non profit organisation called Blind SA in Johannesburg.
Our focus, therefore, has been on providing access to information to visually impaired readers, thereby empowering them to up their rightful positions in society.
I am proud to state that the Department also supports the National Library of South Africa financially, as well as the recapitalisation of public libraries throughout South Africa.
The Department fully realises the value that libraries add to the quality of our citizens’ lives by providing timeous information to inform, educate, entertain, and empower.
For that reason, the Department has submitted the South African Public Library and Information Services Bill to Cabinet.
An investigation was done to cost the financial implications of the Bill, which is a requirement before new legislation could be submitted to Cabinet for approval.
The report on the investigation also offers a five-year implementation phase for library infrastructure, based on the norms and standards described in the Bill.
A strategic objective of the Department is to promote the access to information for all, including to citizens with visual impairments.
The various provincial library services, in cooperation with the SA Library for the Blind, are providing reading facilities for the visually impaired in public libraries.
By using the latest technology, it has become possible to expand services to all citizens and readers via the Internet and special computer hard- and software. However, reading matter in Braille is regarded as equally important.
At the request of the SA National Council for the Blind and other major players in the visually sector, the Department of Arts and Culture commissioned an investigation into national Braille production needs and policy matters in South Africa. The object was to develop a generally accepted Braille production strategy to improve services to visually impaired readers.
The consultants submitted their report to the Department in 2012, with recommendations that should have a positive impact on the cost and quality of Braille production.
The Department has subsequently engaged with other key government Departments in implementing the recommendations.
The Final Report with its recommendations will be considered by Cabinet,I am aware that a major obstacle to provide reading material to visually impaired readers is compliance with national and international copyright and intellectual property legislation and requirements.
Both the SA National Council for the Blind have played a major role toward removing these obstacles, so that information in printed and digital format could be reformatted to Braille, audio and digital format.
Negotiations with the World Intellectual Property Organisation Treaty for Improved access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons and recommended exceptions and limitations on copyright issues from an African point of view, in collaboration with other stakeholders, resulted in the Marakesh Treaty signed Morocco in 2013.
The Department is also actively involved in discussions with the arts and culture sector on the Draft Copyright Amendment Bill, 2015, to ensure that both publishers and readers get a fair deal, as the two sectors are mutually dependent.
From the Order Paper of the Conference it is clear that numerous important matters are on the table for the next three days and I wish you well in your deliberations.
I thank you.