You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a rightto be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should – Desiderata

It is very tempting to project our lives in idealistic terms: sleeping on a bed of roses or being handed things on a silver plate, but life is often about losses; acceptable losses, from whence lessonsare learnt to be applied in the future. My advice: never give up in the middle.

The tiny, rural town of Butterworth in the Eastern Cape cradled Lubabalo Mbeki. The only discernable feature that distinguished the young Lubabalo from the rest of the crowd was his disability, decreed“abnormal” by the community and peers who chorussed in unison that he should retire to the confines of obscurity.

When confronted with the notion of disability our minds do not turn intrinsically to an exploration of possible modes of systematic discrimination and disadvantage. Rather, we remain strongly attached to modes of attribution which prize the explanatory system of the body, in accountingfor the inequalities we see. In short, the story of disability – in our country as well as any other – is a story of social, and by a very huge margin, oppression.

Lubabalo refused to accept the evitable. He attended special schools (Ikwezi Lokusa, Umtata and Filadelfia in Pretoria) where he distinguished himself as a consistent and ardent learner. He also participated in table tennis, wheelchair basketball and swimming.

Then he joined the Department ofLabour’s Employment and Skills Development Services (2005 – 2010) and received extensive training in Employment and Skills Development practices. Revered by his principals and colleagues alike for his astuteness and dedication to the disability agenda, Lubabalo was unanimously elected to represent people with disabilities at the departmental Employment and Equity Forum. July 2010 he joined the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in SA (NCPPDSA) asa Work and Employment Officer.

When asked about the source of his passion he replies, “I have developed great interest and passion in the work for people with disabilities and have always prescribed myself to playing a meaningful role somehow in that regard. As a person with a disability, I wish to share the experiences I have in social life, in the world of work and any other learnings that might educate or enhance the outlook of my ilk.”

Thanks to a long standing relationship between Cornell University, NCPPDSA and QASA, Cornell sponsored Lubabalo to visit to their Employment and Disability Institute (EDI) and learn more about disability and employment models in the United States. He also visited Challenge Industries, JMC Murray Centre and RSS Affirmative Businesses (all business cases) as well as Cornell ILR School of International Programmes, Finger Lakes Independence Centre and Rehab International.

Lubabalo has returned with some focussed ideas: “South Africa must have data-driven information and research that would address more meaningful development for people wit h disabilities and the country as a whole. Also vocational / employment programmes should be evaluated with secondary database sets, through surveys and agencies. Data Informed Strategies will always be useful. Business cases such as for Affirmative Business, Supported Employment and Customized Employment Models are encouraged to be researched, tested and recorded in our employment projects /setups.”

Asked how he felt regarding his achievements, with particular reflection on a childhood  littered with a potpourri of societalrejection and institutional marginalization, Lubabalo Mbeki said: “I dug deep into the arsenal of spirit to keep myself motivated, focused, visionated and sane. My achievements so far are a handsome harvest of those resolutions, which are pottering me into shape, so that I could be of service to the disability sector. I hope that, to those who regarded me as half-witted because of my disability - and only fit for the dustbin of obscurity, it would be: Acceptable Losses!”

ri-dot