Some disabled people living in rural KwaZulu-Natal have no idea about their rights even though government and the media constantly report on this issue.

That is according to Dudu Mazibuko, who was disabled by polio and lives in Embo informal settlement in the lower reaches of the Tugela Valley near the town of Mandeni.

It also has one of the highest levels of HIV and TB in South Africa and the local medical services are stretched to the limit in the region as Covid-19 ravages the province. At the same time, people living with disabilities here say information about their rights is hard to access.

“I have been disabled my whole life, but I could count the times hearing the term disability rights, first time it was when I was in the clinic where there was a speaker who was invited to speak about patients rights and that is where I knew that even us people living with disability also have rights,” she said.

While being unaware of her rights as a disabled person, she has received good care at a local clinic.

“But sometimes it is difficult to ask, exercise or demand your rights if you are poor and not educated which makes it difficult for us,” she said.

Rural wheelchair users suffer most

Jeffrey Zondo also lives in Embo and was left a paraplegic after a car accident permanently disabled him in the early 2000’s. His life changed drastically after the crash and he grappling to get to grips with his condition.

“I relocated where I was staying to my aunt’s house at KwaNdengezi because at home it was not wheelchair friendly, even though I didn’t want to be a burden to my aunt but there was nothing I could do, the situation was forcing me; and beside my aunt had already got me a job at a call centre, I needed to provide for my two daughters,” he said.

But it took some time after the accident to learn how to live in a wheelchair because he lives in the rural areas. Zondo was forced to research what to do online and through social media, as well as consuming books and newspapers. He says no-one in Embo could provide proper information about his rights.

“It is even worse in rural areas, disabled people suffer the most.”

Mazibuko added that if you are living with disability and working, it often becomes difficult to get the same treatment as other colleagues.

“We find ourselves facing numerous challenges such as attitude from colleagues, isolation, looked down apon and most of the time feel pity for them, thinking that since they are disabled people they cannot do such tasks,” he said.

“You found out that if there is a certain training or workshop that staff needs to attend, we as people with disabilities are usually cast out, isolated out of those gatherings because ‘they think’ we can’t do activities required at the training,” said Zondo.

“And by doing so it lives us with broken heart which eventually leads to depression which has a high chances of having mental disability on top of your current disability. We deal with lots of discrimination, stigma and ignorance in work place yet we also like to participate as well, therefore, this disability right awareness has to be introduced as well in work place where disabled people are hired and we also demand equal access to opportunities,” he said.

Previous pass out parade for municipal workers who were involved in a workshop

Mandeni Municipality workshop before Covid-19 struck