The 3rd of December has been designated by the UN to be commemorated annually as the International Day of persons with disabilities to promote awareness and mobilise support for critical issues relating to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development.
The 2015 theme is “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities”.
This year’s International Day of Persons with disabilities coincides with the country’s celebration of 60 years of the Freedom Charter.
The Freedom Charter continues to guide and inform the transformation path of our beautiful country, of building a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white. A South Africa that also belongs to girls, boys, men and women with disabilities who live in it, black and white.
So when we proclaim in the Freedom Charter that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities, we include children, young persons, adults and older persons with disabilities equally.
When we proudly proclaim that all people shall have equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs, we include Deaf persons, South African Sign Language and Deaf culture.
The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) is proud to be part of the We Can Arts Festival, celebrating our diversity through the arts. We will remain united as a nation through the arts, dancing to our fascinating African sounds. It is befitting to commend Outrageous Concepts for their initiative for this event to be possible. We need more of these kinds of events to touch the lives of all citizens equally so.
The “We Can Arts Festival” honours our unsung heroes and heroines living with disabilities through arts.
The DAC promotes creativity by all South Africans in their diversity, through the Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE) strategy, a strategy that contributes to the broader Government approach of the New Growth Plan, whose main drive and focus is to increase job creation, sustain economic activity and develop audiences for arts products.
It is imperative to note that the funding of the arts is a shared responsibility of the National Government, Provincial Government, Local Government and the Private Sector. This synergy is crucial to develop and strengthen Public Private Partnerships for all our arts events throughout the country.
Steve Kekana and Babsy Mlangeni are both renowned South African music legends who have made the country proud with their music, defying the barriers of blindness, giving new meaning to disability. They, together with many other artists living with disabilities confirmed that having a disability of some sort does not make one disabled.
They rose above their disabilities and made a difference. It is pleasant to be part of the audience here today, to experience their performances. These are the kind of examples our youth need, to rise above their challenges and make it in life.
It is certainly not easy to be born with disabilities. Allow me to speak about some of the problems encountered by children with disabilities.
Community misconceptions and stigmas remain associated with children with disabilities, homes of these children.
This in turn leads to attitudes and behaviours of neglect, isolation, abuse and marginalisation of children with disabilities by communities and families leading to increased discrimination.
Children with disabilities are looked down by their fellow peers in the societies that they live. Some parents have had and continue to have negative attitudes towards their children. A study conducted by the African Child Policy Forum in 2009 revealed that parents of children with disabilities and the immediate family members are often perpetrators of violence against these children. Parents often hide children with disabilities and deny them of their rights thinking that they are totally helpless.
Children with disabilities often underestimate themselves. They think they do not fit in society as other able bodied children do. This is visible in self-pity, loss of self-esteem and non-reporting of human rights violations against them.
The situation is made worse by the service providers and the general public who do not appreciate that to accord children with disabilities are their rights, it is an obligation. Often children with disabilities, have therefore, grown miserable and lack social networking skills.
A world known example of a person who succeeded despite his disabilities is Prof. Stephen Hawking, in 1963, Hawking contracted motor neurone disease and was given two years to live. He became severely disabled yet he went on to Cambridge to become a brilliant researcher and Professor and has written many seminal books.
People with disabilities are no different from all other persons. They have the same capacity as we all do, with differences here and there since we are all unique individuals. They also have an important role to play in society.
The “We Can Arts Festival” adds to the projects through which the Department of Arts and Culture optimises and highlights the role played by the Arts in nation building and social cohesion. The diversity of participation straddles race, age and geographic origins, providing for creativity and artistic expression.
We see the government striving towards the provision of opportunities to all citizens, including the previously marginalised communities and people who live with disabilities.
People have since enjoyed dignity, equality and rights previously denied. South Africa has changed for the better, may we grow from strength to strength.
I want to thank you all for attending and wish you enjoy the “We Can Arts Festival”.