‘We are also people’

People with disabilities marched through the streets of Gugulethu demanding equal treatment at public health facilities and in community at large. They chanted words such as Nathi singabantu abaphila nokukhubazeka sifuna ukuphathwa nge sidima nje ngawo wonke umi wase Mzantsi Afrika.

A group of frustrated disabled people have accused the Gugulethu hospital and a local shopping centre of being hostile towards them.

The Gugulethu residents protested outside the hospital on Monday November 28, underscoring many of the issues International Disability Month, from Thursday November 3 to Saturday December 3, seeks to address.

At the same time, the residents also lashed out Gugulethu Square shopping centre, saying it was inaccessible to the disabled.

Led by the Gugulethu Disability Forum (GDP), marchers gathered at Vukuhambe Disabled Centre before marching through the streets of Gugulethu voicing their anger.

Tempers flared outside the hospital when staff refused to open the gate, claiming the march was illegal, a claim rejected by the protesters.

They claimed service was terrible at the hospital, nurses were negligent, toilets and beds were in a poor state and patients were often told that their folders had gone missing.

Nomonde Mbembe, deputy chairperson of Disabled People South Africa (DPSA), claimed they were “treated like dogs”.

Disabled people, she said, wanted to be treated with dignity and those who abused them should face stiff penalties.

She said security guards at the clinic had stopped a car from dropping her off on the premises at night after she had injured her neck in a car accident.

She had then spent the entire night waiting in great pain to be seen to.

“When I told a nurse that I had been sitting on the chair the whole night and I wanted to go home, she asked me if I was discharging myself. I said yes, because clearly no one cares.

“If the clinic is failing to offer quality service to people like us, then it should close because there is no use for it,” she said.

Ward councillor Luvuyo Zondani pleaded with hospital staff to change their behaviour towards patients.

“The fact that they don’t want to open the gate when we have received a letter approving the protest shows that they don’t care about us.

“We are here to voice our grievances and we are giving you seven working days to respond to them. Failing to do so, we will explore other options,” he said to loud applause.

Provincial Department of Health spokeswoman Monique Johnstone said they tried to deliver a service that was accessible to all and they welcomed suggestions on how to improve.

“We acknowledge receipt of the memorandum which was handed over to the clinic. And we will review the memorandum and will be better placed to address the concerns raised within the time frame raised,” she said.

Mark Totoyi, Gugulethu Square marketing manager, said the mall had several ramps for the disabled.

“I conducted a survey a month ago to determine whether the mall was friendly towards disabled people and the number of people whom I spoke to agreed that the mall was indeed friendly.

“When it comes to the issue of shops which they claim are not accessible, I will have to sit down with the management and raise their concerns with them.

“We also have wheelchairs here in the mall on standby to be used by people who are battling to get around the mall,” he said.