I recently bumped into Washiela Kader, the mother of 13 year-old Riyaad, the victim of a gang related shooting. A social worker told her about me: someone with a spinal cord injury yet continuing with my life: working, driving and playing sports etc. Washiela asked if I would “be able to give a few words of encouragement to her son”.

In his high-backed hospital-issue wheelchair he shyly tries to hide his hurt and confusion whilst also reflecting some fascination and interest in my wheelchair. His boyish smile reminds me of my own son, Alexander, bringing shivers down my neck.

I cringe when I realise that I had decided against meeting him and his mother two months ago when the same social worker had informed me of the incident. Here I was, staring reality in the face!What had caused me to choose not to put a human face to the mayhem and disruption that spinal cord injury brings with it?

I’d read in the newspaper that Riyaad, his brother and other children were injured when gangsters opened fire on them. I decided that I would not be able to relate to him and would not be a very good peer support. I buried the horror of the incident, assuring myself that senseless acts of violence are just another cause of spinal cord injury, the most debilitating, disabling injury any person can suffer … and Riyaads’ fate.

I did not entirely drop the matter. I enquired telephonically about similar incidents and victims. I contacted a friend who was shot when he was 16. He referred me to his school attended by yet another young boy who was shot on the Cape Flats .

Where will this stop? When will someone do something to stop this enemy? Can anyone prevent the monsters from turning beautiful young people into broken objects - with little chance of everreaching their full potential?

I tried to find answers for these and other questions as I went on with my own life with my own spinal cordinjury. Long ago, had I decided to continue with my life after my spinal cordinjury in a car accident? The one thing I still can’t understand is how aninjury to my spine instantly transformed me from a someone into a something. Asomething that has been disabled and deprived of the basic rights that all humans should enjoy. And this in an age when international legal recognition has been granted to persons with disabilities through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006. This only means that South Africa is legally bound to other states that havealso ratified the convention. IT DOES NOT MEAN that the South African Government is legally accountable to the disability sector in South Africa! For the South African Government to be legally accountable to the disability sector in South Africa there has to be a resolution passed by the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces. Whether, or when, this will ever happen I donot know. I struggle to see how I, and now Riyaad, can experience and enjoy the:

  • Liberty and security of person: to be free from unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of liberty. (Article 14,CRPD)
  • Access to justice on an equalbasis with others. (Article 13, CRPD)
  • Recognition as a person beforethe law: to enjoy legal capacity in all areas of life and receive support where needed. (Article 12 CRPD)
  • To health, including the right to receive medical care based on free and informed consent (Article 25, CRPD)
  • To live independently and be included in the community (Article 19, CRPD)

These are but a few of the rights that Riyaad and I will not enjoy soon.

Being a backyard dweller on the Cape Flats Riyaad will be exposed to the harsh conditions that many other people face. But he will live it as a person with a disability. With no electricity, but for a single extension cord to their bungalow from council flats on the same property. With no accessible public transport from Hanover Park to go back to school to complete grade 6. He will not be able to play in the soccer trials for Bayhill United. He will not be able to go up the stairs where he was so callously shot late last year.

Riyaad will soon be transferred to Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre to be taught how to use a wheelchair, how to get in and out of the bath, how to wash and dress himself and to use the medication he will rely on for his bladder and bowel control. Then he will be discharged and sent back to the ghetto of Hanover Park. Where is the justice inthis?

I met Riyaad during the run up to the 16 Day campaign of no violence against women and children, as we were aboutto celebrate 3 December, the International Day for People with Disabilities. In2008 the theme was “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:Dignity and justice for all of us.” Annual themes have to be incorporated intothe planning of programs and events for the commemorative day for people livingwith disabilities. Boy, do I feel let down by this! I feel betrayed, lied to,exploited – in fact I feel taken for a gatby the very people who determined the theme for 2008.

How do I tell Riyaad about his prospects, in language that he will understand, but with respect? I get so very frustrated about the plight of people with disabilities, especially in our poorer communities. How do I look him in his face and tell him that disability isoften associated with high levels of poverty and inequality? That disabled persons are often marginalized, subjected to abuse, ineffectively accommodated for and that we battle to find gainful employment?

In South Africa disabled peoplestruggle to enjoy their human rights as a direct result of their disability. Wehave the best constitution; we also have the constitutionally created,independent state institution, the South African Human Rights Commission. Insection 184 of our Constitution it says:

The South African Human Rights Commission must

  1. Promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights
  2. Promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights; and
  3. Monitor and assess the observance of human rights in the Republic.

(Section 184 ofthe Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996)

Riyaad, if you were employed and on medical aid, you might be able to afford a decent wheelchair and perhaps a specialised vehicle but, in the real world, you will have no public transport, beprovided with unsuitable wheelchairs and face little possibility of employment -BECAUSE OF YOUR DISABILITY. You might receive a government grant of R1,140 a month. You will go to the biggest rehabilitation centre in Africa, yet it is under-staffed and you will be discharged with inadequate equipment for living life to your new fullest potential. I hope this will not be the case forever, and that we will still be around when the real changes come and the day finally dawns that ALL South Africans can enjoy the promised “better life for all”. - Raven Benny