‘We are all vulnerable to disability’

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By Tsitsi Matope

MASERU-Lesotho is still far from understanding and taking disability issues seriously and this has left the more than 75 000 Basotho living with disability feeling abandoned and neglected.
This is according to the Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled (LNFOD) director, Mokome Mafethe.
In an interview, Mafethe said more funding is needed to help improve the quality of life and ensure the education of every Mosotho living with disability. With a good education, Mafethe said people with disability can also significantly contribute to building the country’s economy.

She further explained how lack of legislation that effectively deals with matters affecting people living with disability is affecting the LNFOD fight to ensure their rights are upheld in every sphere of society.
Mafethe emphasised because disability issues cut across all sectors, there is need to integrate them into various programmes run by different government departments although the Ministry of Social Development would still be the coordinator.
But for this to happen and work effectively, Mafethe said there was need to build the capacity of ministries to understand how integrating disability issues into their programmes can create complete intervention packages that do not leave out persons with disability.
“There is that need for people to understand that we are all vulnerable to disability. Accidents can happen and illnesses can also lead to disability. If this reality cannot cause various stakeholders to see the need to prepare for such eventualities and also cater for those currently in need of such systems, then we have a serious problem,” Mafethe said.
She further noted although her organisation has the responsibility to contribute towards raising awareness on the rights of people with disability, more needs to be done to practically address the challenges.
“Support given to people with disability by the government continues to dwindle as seen by the large-size wheelchairs supplied last year, without even considering other sizes. It is also becoming a challenge for the government to provide the other assistive devices. I feel the private sector and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) also have a role to play to ensure adequate support to those who, because of their physical and intellectual incapacities, need some form of assistance.”
Mafethe said such support, that can include the establishment of the Disability Grant and the revolving loan facility, can go a long way in supporting those that have severe disability and require round-the-clock care.
“The revolving loan facility was introduced by the government a few years ago and it failed. This was not because it was a bad initiative but because it was not properly administered,” Mafethe said. She added while it is clear the government was burdened by other responsibilities such as HIV and AIDS, food-insecurity, unemployment and poverty, it was also important to note these also affected persons with disability.
“Without laws and programmes that can effectively protect and support them, they suffer more. What is there to ensure when it comes to employment they are given first preference, that when they are sick, those with hearing-impairment or other forms of disability are able to access services and also benefit from other forms of support?”
According to Mafethe, her experience over the years showed inconsistencies when it came to implementing and sustaining various disability programmes.
“The incapacity to understand the important issues, lack of interest, limited resources and focus on how to implement are the reasons why the sector is not developing. It’s an attitude that says: disability is not much of a big deal, we have more important issues to attend to, like issues that attract more donor-funding,” Mafethe said, adding she has nothing against the government.
“I don’t view the government as a competitor but our partner. The challenge I personally have is when we conduct meetings and government officials agree on everything and when it comes to implementation, nothing seems to move. There are always excuses, of course, which include lack of resources or a donor to support a particular initiative. For example, the guidelines for the National Disability and Rehabilitation Policy could not be drafted because the donor pulled out. For me, that was unfortunate considering the importance of the guidelines. I strongly believe the government should have funded the exercise.”
Mafethe noted her organisation, together with the Ministry of Social Development, last year drafted the instructions of the Disability Equity Legislation, which are expected to be handed over to the Ministry of Law.
“We worked on the instructions because there were indications that the process was budgeted for to the tune of M400 000. We will push for positive development this year.”
The Disability Equity Legislation, she said, seeks to domesticate the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Lesotho ratified the convention in 2008.
“Although government ratified the convention, we are aware that generally, there is a tendency to ratify conventions and then fail to domesticate them to make them effective and binding locally,” Mafethe said.
The legislation would address issues related to crime perpetrated on people with disability and help ensure they receive justice.
“One of the reasons why people with disability do not report crime is that many police stations are inaccessible. In some severe cases, family members have to carry the person to make a report.”
The other challenge, according to Mafethe, is when reports are thrown out on the basis of disability.
“There is a tendency at some police stations to scrutinise the appearance of a person with disability and then doubt what he or she is saying could be credible. There are various levels of intellectual disability, for example, in some cases, victims can tell who sexually abused them especially when the perpetrator is a person they know. We have heard of some cases that were reported and later thrown out without much effort to ensure justice prevailed.”
Mafethe said because of this gap in the justice system, persons with disability have become an easy target for criminals in most parts of the country.
She highlighted the need to resuscitate the community-based rehabilitation programme, which ran in Mafeteng and Leribe in 2003. The programme was supported by both the government and the Norwegian Association of the Disabled, which however, later pulled out.
“This was a good programme because it was aimed at improving the understanding of the rights of people with disability. At the same time, it intended to stimulate the interest of the local communities to participate in disability issues. It also looked at how the communities can help and the role that traditional leaders and councillors play to ensure crimes perpetrated are reported to the police without further stressing the victims.
“Unfortunately, the programme was short-lived because the money donated was not being fully utilised. The Ministry of Social Development was then a department under the Ministry of Health and disability issues were not as critical in a ministry that largely dealt with health matters,” Mafethe said.
Ironically, the programme collapsed when the Ministry of Social Development was established, she said.
Mafethe said this year, her organisation was willing to work and support government’s efforts towards improving the lives of people with disability.
“This is because of the passion we have for disability issues and also the financial support we get from the government and the Norwegian Association of the Disabled, to raise awareness and also conduct other programmes.
“For us, awareness is great empowerment and also the only way to ensure that communities support people with disability.”

Mafethe meanwhile, said she expects this year to be different. “We are advocating for the equal employment opportunities for people with disability. We like the concept of communities supporting the people we represent but we are also very much aware that disability is not inability. Previous and current programmes tend to be biased towards
promoting income-generating projects among people with disability, which is good, but we would also like opportunities widened to further trainings and employment.”

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