Hon Chairperson, hon Minister, Deputy Minister and the department, apart from the lack of leadership and the vague goals of the department, the underfunding of projects is my biggest concern regarding the department. It is sad that a department specifically designed to cater for the needs of vulnerable groups in a country is clearly failing them.
In August 2012 Minister Xingwana launched the National Council Against Gender-based Violence. This was broadly welcomed. The council's responsibilities include, among other things, driving the implementation of the 365-day National Action Plan to End Gender Violence; advising government on policy and intervention programmes; and strengthening national partnerships in the fight against gender-based violence.
It remains unclear whether this council has been properly instituted or given the necessary funding as social injustices against vulnerable groups remain high. The reason I mention this is that in 2011-12 a total of 31 299 sexual offences were reported by adult females according to the SA Police Service. The figure for children who reported sexual offences in the same year was 25 862.
Furthermore, R5 million has been allocated for the co-ordination of special day events and only R950 000 for three research-based projects. There is a serious lack of funds for the support of victims of sexual violence in the criminal justice system. Legal and medical assistance and counselling, together with supporting and developing specialised police units to deal with violent and sexual crime, command the Minister's urgent attention.
With the department participating in international conventions - for example, the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York - its work on the ground to improve the status of women, children and the disabled has not improved or benefited from the expensive trip paid for by the South African taxpayer.
The most alarming fact is the downward adjustment for the budgets for all programmes on children's rights in this financial year. The Minister and her department should be less interested in spending money on fruitless pilot projects that only result in stillbirths, and should rather invest in the wellbeing of our society. I thank you. [Time expired.] [Applause.]
The DEPUTY MINISTER OF WOMEN, CHILDREN AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Chairperson, allow me to observe all protocol in order to save my time. Looking back, we can agree that, even though we could have done better, we have made progress in our task to strengthen collective action towards the realisation of the rights of people with disabilities as equal citizens.
The finalisation of the baseline country report on the rights of people with disabilities in April 2013 has provided us, for the first time, with a comprehensive platform from which we can measure progress and set targets aimed at improving the outcomes of our collective efforts to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the disability rights movement, parents of children with disabilities, disabled people individually and collectively, all three spheres of government, state-owned enterprises, institutions of higher education and training, Parliament, and Chapter 9 and 10 institutions for their contribution to making this United Nations report a reality.
The ANC-led government has done well in putting in place reasonable accommodation measures that unlock opportunities for people with disabilities, remove barriers to participation, enable self-representation and facilitate access. A few that can be mentioned include the following. Taxpayers are able to claim tax benefits for all disability-related costs incurred. We call on all taxpayers who have not made use of this measure to visit their nearest SA Revenue Service office to register for this significant benefit - in particular, parents, guardians and caregivers of children with disabilities. In this way, we will stop equating disability with costs.
Also, voters with visual impairment are now able to vote in secret and unassisted, following the development of a universal ballot template by the Independent Electoral Commission in partnership with the SA National Council for the Blind. As we move towards the elections, nobody will be able to cheat us, as we will be able to make our own mark. [Applause.] In addition, the Reserve Bank has ensured that, by following a participatory consultative process with disabled people's organisations, the Mandela banknotes have special features to ensure accessibility for people with visual impairment. In that way, the hon Danny Kekana will not give somebody a R200 note thinking it is a R20 note.
The ANC, in its 2009 manifesto, set out five national priorities to which we remain committed. We gave life to these commitments through action- driven projects focusing on investing in the empowerment of people with disabilities. We call on South Africans with disabilities to participate effectively in the ANC manifesto development processes in order to ensure that the 2014-2019 manifesto has better articulated disability-specific priorities and outcomes. Vote ANC! The better life is nearly there.
Economic independence for the majority of South Africans remains elusive. Access to finance is but one of the many obstacles faced by entrepreneurs, and disabled entrepreneurs are no exception. My appreciation therefore goes to the Industrial Development Corporation, IDC, which has funded the Vuka Academy Driving School that is owned by a disabled entrepreneur and which is intended to facilitate access to driving for those with mobility impairment. It is currently operating in the Free State and the Northern Cape. [Applause.] We believe and trust that more funding will be made available so that this project can expand to other provinces, since access to transport remains a dream for the majority of disabled South Africans. We know that ... hawu! nathi sifuna ukukhipha izimoto [we also want to buy cars ...] ... you know, and drive ourselves.
Organisations such as the Medunsa Organisation for Disabled Entrepreneurs, Mode, the Disability Workshop Development Enterprise, DWDE, and the Work4You social enterprise, to mention a few, have all developed expertise through innovation and forging partnerships in developing the entrepreneurial and productivity skills and capacities of people with disabilities across the impairment spectrum.
The R50 million disability grant allocated by the IDC, and the expertise acquired by the organisations I have mentioned, amongst others, could go a long way in easing the burden of the lack of economic empowerment for entrepreneurs with disabilities, if they join hands.
Allow me to congratulate institutions such as the Athena Private Further Education and Training College and the SA Disability Development Trust that have both formed partnerships with sector education and training authorities, Setas, and companies such as Woolworths, Waltons, Makro, the Foschini Group, the Southern Sun hotel group and rural municipalities, just to mention a few, for skilling young people with disabilities, even those in the deepest rural areas, through learnerships and placements, thereby enabling these companies to exceed their set 2% target. We call upon the private sector and government to yield to the call.
As one of the beneficiaries, Sizakele Mdladlana from Khayelitsha, a wheelchair user, said: "I am a taxpayer. I have my own house, got married and proudly take care of my own family." Indeed, being a disabled woman, an eligible bachelor did not see her wheelchair but a beautiful woman. [Applause.]
There is ability in disability, that is if you define us according to our disabilities. In ensuring that disabled people with their God-given talents benefit and contribute to the Mzansi Golden Economy, as announced by Minister Mashatile, we facilitated and supported the establishment of an agency called the Gifted Stars, with the slogan: It is your time to shine.
Gifted Stars will grow into a one-stop shop for many talented persons with disabilities to access opportunities, as well as for the industry to find talented disabled people. This agency will cater for actors, and for broadcasting, literature, dancing, singing and art, just to mention a few. I see that the hon Lamoela watches 7de Laan. I want to mention that Kosie in 7de Laan also benefited from the Gifted Stars. He is a young person with Down's syndrome. [Applause.]
We would all agree that education remains a crucial weapon with which to liberate people from oppression. The same is true for people with disabilities. To accelerate that reality, we engaged institutions of higher education and training to create an enabling environment for students with disabilities through facilitating the establishment of disability rights units; developing disability policies; including disability in diversity programmes; and consolidating and the establishment of the Higher Education Disability Services Association, Hedsa.
We further ensured that there was a review of the funding guidelines of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, NSFAS, for reasonable accommodation support for students with disabilities, especially as it pertains to assistive devices and personal assistance. It was good that NSFAS bought the hon Thandi a fancy motorised wheelchair when she arrived at varsity. But when Niniwe Mbazima, a deaf student, arrived at university requiring a sign language interpreter, then all of a sudden the sign language interpreter did not constitute being an assistive device. Today it does, so deaf people have access to university. [Applause.] We call on all students, with or without disabilities, to familiarise themselves with these new guidelines and to ensure their adherence. It has never been the belief of the ANC-led government that it alone could solve the social challenges faced by South Africans. Hence, as we realise our goal of working together, it gives hope to every South African.
Allow me to borrow the words of now 19-year-old Chaeli Mycroft. This then 17-year-old, severely disabled young girl, a first-year student at the University of Cape Town this year, said:
Hope is what keeps us going; it's what keeps us striving for the lives we deserve. I have hope for myself, but I also have hope for all other children with disabilities. I hope that my actions as an ability activist will leave the world more accepting and more accommodating for all people and not just people with disabilities, because we are all different and we all have the need to be accepted, regardless of having a disability or not.
These are the same words of hope echoed by the children of the Pontsho disability centre in Khureng village in the Lepelle-Nkumpi Municipality in Limpopo province. Today, they play and learn in a state-of-the-art centre built for them instead of the shack they were cramped up in. The children and their parents had hope that one day their dream of decent and safe facilities would become a reality. Our thanks go to Mutual & Federal, the SA Breweries, Absa Bank, Defy, Nestl, Mr Price, the Al-Imdaad Foundation and the many other local businesses that demonstrated that together we can turn hope into reality, as we did in Khureng village. [Applause.]
Armed with the same commitment to make dreams a reality through partnerships, Konica Minolta, the MTN Foundation and Neotel ensured that a fully accessible computer laboratory, equipped with all access-related hardware and software, became a reality for the students of the University of Limpopo. They have no excuse not to excel. We thank the three organisations.
In the same vein, the Sive School for the Deaf in Kokstad, in the rural Eastern Cape, stands proud today with well-trained teachers, a functional library, and a renovated school and boarding facilities, after being included in the M-Net Naledi Children's Literacy Project, one of the M-Net Cares projects. It is also a school for the deaf. Four more schools for different disabilities have been included in this programme this year. Our thanks go to M-Net Cares.
Hope is what the women of Gombani, a deep rural village in the Mutale Local Municipality in the Vhembe district of Limpopo, had. Today, they are making bricks and constructing their own houses, using the hydrofoam alternative construction technology. This was made possible through a partnership between the MTN Foundation, Pretoria Portland Cement, Lafarge, and Siya Zama. This partnership was co-ordinated by the Independent Development Trust, and supported by Karen Khula, a woman-owned construction company at level seven, as well as by SA Women in Construction for technical assistance and quality control. A better life has indeed arrived in Gombani. [Applause.]
Hope for children with intellectual and mental disabilities and their families is, at times, a distant dream, as the hon Maduna said. However, we are changing this through partnerships. For the learners at Forest Town School, a school for children with severe disabilities - and supported by teachers who believe in them - PPC Cement and other private-sector donors have made it possible for a bakery, a confectionery, a coffee shop, a beauty salon and an ICT repair centre to be established for all those over the age of 16 in order to acquire labour-market skills, rather than go home to nothing. As we are aware, children with intellectual disabilities do not make it in our labour market. However, we stand proud because now they are. We also thank PPC Cement for employing some of the children who have gone through the school-to-work programme.
We handed over these facilities with pride, knowing well that even though these children have intellectual disabilities, they will be contributing to the economy of the country and not be mere beneficiaries of social services. We call on government, Setas, state-owned enterprises, parents, communities and captains of industry to give them a chance by continuing to support them and ensuring that they access the labour market.
South Africa stands proud among nations on many issues, and disability rights are no exception. With the signing and ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, we are beginning to give effect to articles such as Article 32 on international co- operation.
With the support provided to a number of disabled people from other African counties and the world, we have witnessed the goodwill of our African people who have turned hope and a dream of a young Nigerian girl, Adeife Adeniran, into reality. Through her book, Can You Imagine? and her foundation trust, we have collectively managed to raise sufficient funds and pledges during the recent state visit by Nigerian president Jonathan for the construction of a school for visually impaired children in Nigeria. South Africa cannot stand alone. This African continent is our home. [Applause.]
Financial and technical support from the UN family in 2013-2014 will enable us to integrate disability-specific indicators into the country-wide planning, monitoring and evaluation system, to complete the legislative audit and to strengthen disability data management instruments in Statistics SA so that together we can agree who constitutes disabled South Africans. We will also be able to begin with the drafting of the Disability Act, its finalisation and the updating of disability policy. As we move forward, the road to disability inclusion, mainstreaming and integration is a long and winding one. However, slowly but surely we have hope that we will get there together.
Nineteen years later, people with albinism continue to experience discrimination through the language we use for them. We call them all sorts of derogatory names. Assistive devices remain a challenge, because a hat does not constitute an assistive device or sunscreen a cosmetic.
All of that is about to change. This is because, for the first time, we will be convening the first albinism conference in October to look at all the realities for people with albinism. The reality is that sometimes they are not seen as disabled enough to access the benefits meant for people with disabilities, and that is about to change.
Despite chapter 1, section 6 of the South African Constitution that gives effect to the recognition of sign language as the first language of deaf people and that empowers the state to put relevant measures in place, we have thus far not done much. However, this is changing. This year, working hand-in-hand with the Department of Arts and Culture and the Pan-South African Language Board, PanSALB, we will start the process of recognising sign language as the mother-tongue language of deaf people and as the 12th official language of South Africa. We will conclude this process very soon. [Applause.]
In conclusion, we have set the standards to which we can all rise, with the understanding that each finger affects the strength of the whole hand. Thank you, Chairperson. [Time expired.] [Applause.]