Disability in South Africa

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South Africans with disabilities constitute a sizeable proportion of the population, and their status in society is extremely varied in a developing nation with socio-economic inequality and a history of apartheid. Wealthy city dwellers have access to a wide range of assistance, whereas the poor struggle for even the basic necessities of life.


According to a 2014 report by Statistics South Africa, based on the 2011 census, 7.5% of the country's population is regarded as having a disability.[1][note 1] The highest proportion of people living with disabilities, by province, was found to be in the Free State, with 11,1% of its population having a disability, followed by the Northern Cape, with 11%, the North West, with 10%, the Eastern Cape, with 9,6%, KwaZulu-Natal, with 8,4%, Mpumalanga, with 7%, Limpopo, with 6%, the Western Cape, with 5,4% and Gauteng, with 5,3%.[2] In his presentation the Statistician-General, Pali Lehohla, said that mining could contribute to the high prevalence of people with disabilities in Free State, Northern Cape, North West, and Eastern Cape. According to Lehohla a significant number of South Africa's mine workers originate from these provinces.[3]

Legislation and government policy[edit]

South Africa is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as well as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed on 30 March 2007 and ratified on 30 November 2007.[4][5] The national constitution's chapter two, "bill of rights" explicitly prohibits unfair discrimination against people on the basis of disability or health status.

The 1997 Integrated National Disability Strategy (INDS) white paper set out a variety of government policy positions on disability.[6]

From 2009 to 2014 a Ministry and Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities existed. Its disability programme was criticized in parliament for underperformance and inefficiency.[7] When the Ministry and Department were abolished in 2014, responsibility for matters relating to disability passed to the Department of Social Development, however this move was criticized by disability organisations.[8] Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) organised a 150-person march to the Union Buildings in protest of government's decision to dissolve the department. DPSA spokesperson Olwethu Sipuka said that disabled people around the world felt that the decision to dissolve the department had taken disability rights in South Africa "10 steps backwards".[9]

The Department of Social Development's 2015 White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities updated and supplemented the 1997 INDS by integrating the provisions of the CRPD and its Optional Protocol.[10]


A wide range of advocacy and self-help organisations exist in South Africa. They range from the overtly political Disabled People South Africa, aligned with the ruling African National Congress, to single-issue national organisations such as the QuadPara Association of South Africa[11] and local self-help groups that advocate for their members.[12] A former chair of Disabled People South Africa, Maria Rantho (1953-2002), was the first wheelchair user elected to the National Assembly of South Africa.[13]

In 2014, the South African Community Action Network implemented a hotline to report cars illegally parking in parking bays intended for people with disabilities, without displaying a disabled parking permit.[14]


Employment equity exists in legislation but in practice falls far short. Disabled South Africans are vastly more likely to be unemployed than the average. In a study published by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) in 2014, it was shown that 68% of working-age South Africans with disabilities had never attempted to seek employment.[15]

Social grants[edit]

The Department of Social Development offers qualifying residents income support in the form of disability grants.[16][17] The 2014 CSDA study showed that the grant was only received by 10% of the disabled people in South Africa.[18] A 2010 study published by the University of Johannesburg, showed that 61% of disabled people living in the 8 poorest wards in Johannesburg were not accessing the state's disability grant due to various reasons, including not knowing that the grant existed.[19]


The separate special schools policies of the Apartheid era created a system of schools for children with a wide variety of disabilities, with some schools specializing in educating blind, deaf or intellectually impaired students while others that catered for physically disabled students offered the standard academic curriculum coupled with medical and paramedical services to treat the pupils' impairments. As with the general population these schools were also racially segregated. The ones for white children were far better resourced than those for other racial groups. With the abolition of apartheid came a policy shift towards inclusive education with the ideal that most disabled children should attend the same schools as their non-disabled peers, however the process of making schools physically accessible and equipping and staffing them to accommodate such students has been very slow.[20][21][22][23][24] The 2014 CSDA study showed that the proportion of people with disabilities in South Africa who had achieved a university degree had risen from 0,3% in 2002, to between 1% and 2% in 2014.[18]



The South African Paralympic team has consistently finished in the top half of the medal table at every Summer Paralympic Games since the country was re-admitted after the end of apartheid. At their readmission in the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona the team was ranked 27th by medal tally, in 2008 they reached sixth place, the team's best performance to date.[25]

Notable South African Paralympians include:


South Africa has been participating at the Deaflympics regularly from 1993. Deaf swimmer and Olympic silver medallist Terence Parkin has won the most number of medals at the Deaflympics history with a tally of 33.[27]

Other sports[edit]

The South Africa national blind cricket team won the inaugural Blind Cricket World Cup in 1998, defeating Pakistan in the final.[28]


  1. ^ From the Executive Summary on page V: "The report also does not include statistics on children under the age of five or on persons with psychosocial and certain neurological disabilities due to data limitations, and should therefore not be used for purposes of describing the overall disability prevalence or profile of persons with disabilities in South Africa."


  1. ^ Census 2011: Profile of persons with disabilities in South Africa (PDF) (Report). Pretoria: Statistics South Africa. 2014. ISBN 9780621427936.
  2. ^ "2.9 million South Africans are disabled: Stats SA". Times Live. South African Press Association. 9 September 2014. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  3. ^ Wakefield, Adam (9 September 2014). "Mining may contribute to disability levels". IOL News. SAPA. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  4. ^ "UNTC - Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". United Nations. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  5. ^ "UNTC - Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". United Nations. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  6. ^ "South Africa's Integrated National Disability Strategy". Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  7. ^ "Minister & Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities on its Annual Report for 2012/13". Parliamentary Monitoring Group. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  8. ^ "President Zuma considers concerns from disability activists" (Press release). The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa. 27 June 2014. Archived from the original on 7 October 2014. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  9. ^ "Zuma taking disability rights '10 steps backwards'". Times Live. SAPA. 13 June 2014. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  10. ^ Department of Social Development (2015-12-08). "White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities" (PDF). Government of South Africa: 38. Retrieved 2017-08-17. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ "QASA Mission & Vision". QuadPara Association of South Africa. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  12. ^ Watermeyer, Brian (19 September 2013). "Silencing lives of struggle: how Disabled People South Africa has sacrificed the politics of protest". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  13. ^ Colleen, Howell; Chalklen, Schuaib; Alberts, Thomas (2006). "A History of the Disability Rights Movement in South Africa". In Brian Watermeyer (ed.). Disability and social change: a South African agenda. Cape Town: HSRC press. p. 51. ISBN 9780796921376.
  14. ^ Nair, Nivashni. "Disabled parking gets hotline". Times Live. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  15. ^ Reitumetse Pitso; Khulekani Maguban. "South Africa failing the disabled". BDLive. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  16. ^ World report on disability (PDF), World Health Organization, 2011, p. 70, ISBN 9789240685215
  17. ^ "Disability Grant". South African Social Security Agency. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  18. ^ a b Taylor, Theresa (12 June 2014). "Findings show vulnerability of disabled". IOL News. The Star. Archived from the original on 7 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  19. ^ "Disabled living in poverty - study". News24. SAPA. 14 May 2010. Archived from the original on 7 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  20. ^ "Disabled People South Africa briefing on education, employment & accessibility challenges". Parliamentary Monitoring Group. 6 March 2013. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  21. ^ Gontsana, Mary-Anne (29 September 2014). "allAfrica.com: South Africa: The Need for Special Needs Schools". allAfrica.com. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  22. ^ Malan, Mia (23 September 2014). "Disabled children face uphill education battle". The M&G Online. Retrieved 30 September 2014.
  23. ^ Study on Education for Children with Disabilities in Southern Africa (PDF) (Report). The Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities. November 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-04.
  24. ^ Dalton, Elizabeth M.; Mckenzie, Judith A.; Kahonde, Callista (16 May 2012). "The implementation of inclusive education in South Africa: Reflections arising from a workshop for teachers and therapists to introduce Universal Design for Learning". African Journal of Disability. 1 (1): 13. doi:10.4102/ajod.v1i1.13. PMC 5442567. PMID 28729974.
  25. ^ McCallum, Kevin (21 June 2012). "Best SA Paralympic team ever". IOL News. Archived from the original on 7 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  26. ^ SABC. "SABC News.com – SAs Van Dyk steals limelight at Boston Marathon:Monday 21 April 2014". Sabc.co.za. Archived from the original on 23 April 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-21.
  27. ^ "Terence Parkin | Deaflympics". www.deaflympics.com. Archived from the original on 2016-09-18. Retrieved 2017-09-05.
  28. ^ "South Africa snatch World Cup for sight impaired (28 November 1998)". Cricinfo. Retrieved 2017-08-16.

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