Us and Disability
By Maakomele Manaka
My father cried when he found out that his first born son will never walk again. He couldn’t deal with the pain of seeing me in a wheelchair, and that led to a drift between me and my father, but I don’t blame him, because disability in black families is seen as a punishment from god, and because of this perception, black communities treat disability like it’s a social lapper.
I remember when I was still on a wheelchair, my friends and I would go out as any young person would on a Friday after school, and I recall this one afternoon in a restaurant with a few of my friends. The waiter came over to us and started asking everybody what they wanted to order, and then to my surprise, this guy asked my friend sitting next to me, what I would love to order, and then boldly with a smile, I answer, “I’d like a burger and coke, thank you”.
The treatment of disability in some parts of the country is the same as in black communities, out of sight out of mind, because of lack of understanding and exposure to disability related issues.
When I was an assistant to a psychologist who was doing a survey on inclusion, on schools between children with disabilities and “normal” children, we went to a school in Soweto called Adelaide Thambo School for disabled children. And it was there that my heart broke down when one of the children said he’d rather go to a school like his than to one with ‘normal’ children, and when I asked him why, he said, “Because other children around my neighborhood say I walk funny, and that’s why my mother keeps me in the house all the time”. Children can be cruel at times, but they are also a reflection of their parent’s teachings at home.
What are we teaching our children about disability?
In May 2009, the government established a department that will deal with equality and development for marginalized people in South Africa, the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, headed by the former minister of Arts and Culture minister, Lulu Xingwana, And so far, it seems as though the department is lacking communication skills because not many people know it exists.
Her office needs to implement some kind of marketing strategy to educate people about the meaning of “disability” and not to continue adding salt to the wound, “out of sight, out of might” by marginalizing people that already feel marginalized, and I can’t help but wonder, if there are people with disabilities in that department, why don’t they say or do something?
What is disability?
As a writer, this is where I love language, simply because of its broadness, the word “disability” dos not only apply to a person’s physicality, it also means “lack of some capacity”, and in that sense, we all have a disability.
So, a child like Malema, who has a hard time listening to his parents the ANC when they reprimand him, has a disability, xenophobia is a disability, Nonhle’s rude behavior about how much money she has, is a disability, and one disability that I am sure we all struggle with, is public speaking, and road rage.
But, the worst disability, is limiting yourself because of societies perceptions about you.
The writer, poet and philosopher Khalil.Gibran says, “much of our sorrows are self inflicted” in his book “The Prophet”.
The worst thing that my father did was inflicting pain upon himself because of not understanding disability, and little did he know, that I have had a disability even before my accident, I spoke a lot and eat a lot.
We all have a disability, and as soon as our black communities can understand that, physical disability wont be a social lapper.
What is your disability?