- May 20, 2020

Names have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story.

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series

The coronavirus pandemic spread to South Africa, with the first confirmed case announced on 5 March 2020 by Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize. This is the story of two men with disability from South Africa, who spoke to IDA about barriers they face in accessing food and ensuring mobility.

“We are always reached the last because we are not prioritized”: Enzokuhle’s story.

Enzokuhle is a young man who lives with his son. They both have a physical disability and are part of a local disability organisation. He is also a social entrepreneur.

One of the main concerns is that people with disabilities have little information on COVID-19 and do not entirely understand the severity of the situation. “We have a lot of people with disabilities not believing that there is a virus”. He explains that there are many fake news on social media that have influenced public perceptions on the outbreak: “some believe we’re in lockdown so they can kill us. It’s seen as a way of oppressing people with disabilities and getting rid of us”. Enzokuhle says that this situation has caused mental health implications for many persons with disabilities that don’t think they will survive the outbreak or the lockdown. 

Moreover, many persons with disabilities are experiencing lack of income and issues to secure food. “Social grants are very difficult to obtain. If my business had been provided a business support grant, I would be able to remodel my business and offer safety equipment in big quantities.” Enzokuhle has been involved in helping the local nonprofit organisations obtain the permit to help the provincial government distribute food parcels. He has focused his work on making requests and sending proposals for persons with disabilities to obtain food. The DPO he’s involved with is providing contacts for the application of the relief food parcels in the different provinces. “Our department is failing to deliver due to number of requests. We have not been able to give most of our people basic needs like food, some only get bread. We have hundreds of people on our list in need of basic food and safety equipment like masks and sanitizers.”, he says. 

Enzokuhle has also managed to partner with other NGOs so they can exchange resources. He says that the situation is getting very tense and the population in region are reaching desperation levels. “If people are hungry it poses other challenges and risk of spreading the virus because people run after any truck that delivers food as there is not enough for everyone”, he says. 

Enzokuhle has formed a network via WhatsApp groups with local farmers to create a corporate funding and ensure food is reaching persons with disabilities. “We are always reached the last because we are not prioritized. We need to fight earnestly for those who are really in need and are being left behind”. 

“If it doesn’t work for persons with disabilities, it simply doesn’t work.”: Melokuhle’s story.

Melokuhle is a wheelchair user in his early 40s. He is employed as an administrator in a private company and has been able to continue working remotely from home.

“We seem to come last when it comes to making decisions that will impact us as well”, he says. Melokuhle explains that during the first week of the lockdown, he had a problem with his wheelchair tire and was unable to get it fixed because this service was deemed as non essential. “You don’t keep spare tires of a wheelchair in your house. I was forced to go to a place to pump my wheel every 2 days to make sure my wheelchair wouldn’t stop working all”, he said. This went on for 4 weeks until he managed to get it repaired. 

Before the lock down, Melokuhle took his car to the repair shop as it had broken down. It still wasn’t fully fixed but since transportation in his town is not accessible for those who use wheelchair, he is in need of his car to carry out daily tasks, such as grocery shopping or going to an ATM. However, he was told that as he is not an essential worker that needs his car, he would have to wait. “My wheelchair and car are essential to me, I cannot live without them. This is my freedom”, he says.

Melokuhle struggles to get a response from the government for instance in regards to his car. In the end, he asked to get his car back, even if it wasn’t completely fixed and despite the discouragement of the mechanic: “I have to risk it. I could have been fined for doing this but I can’t afford to hire a car or find an alternative”.

On the other hand, public transport is not accessible for wheelchair users in the region. In the case of Melokuhle, the nearest bus stop from his home is 3 kilometers away. Minibus taxis are not accessible either as there is no specific place to put the wheelchair and he relies on other people to use this service (to lift him, hold his chair, etc). 

Melokuhle also shares the story of a friend whose washing machine broke and he’s unable to wash his clothes by hand due to a physical disability. However, machines are not sold at the moment because they aren’t considered essential. “What do you do when you don’t have alternatives? One size does not fit for all. There should be exceptions”, he says.

This situation made Melokuhle question the lack of guidelines or strategies for persons with disabilities. “Rules are being made without taking into consideration the perspective of persons with disabilities. This makes societies unequal and unfair”, he says. 

“I feel very lonely as family members cannot visit me. I live in isolation. I have tried to get in touch with DPOs but very difficult to get hold of them. I needed an advisor, it seems there is no one around.”, he says. Melokuhle’s biggest concern is that decisions are being taken at all levels without including the perspective of persons with disabilities, he wishes DPOs and persons with disabilities were more involved and given a seat at the table. “If it doesn’t work for persons with disabilities, it simply doesn’t work”, he says firmly. 

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