94 mental health patients in Gauteng: A lesson for State parties to the CRPD – A classic case of a poor deinstitutionalisation process

Author: Patricia Mwanyisa
Consultant – Human Rights and Access to Justice

As South Africa took time to celebrate its annual human rights day on March 21, this year (2017) the deaths of the 94 patients in Gauteng Province in a space of under a year should not be forgotten. The provincial government of Gauteng took the decision to remove persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities from government health institutions to reduce spending on their healthcare. The implementation process was poorly planned, rapidly executed and chaotic.  The move had fatal and disastrous consequences as it not only contravened national and international law, but also proved cruel and inhumane. The record shows 94 lives were lost, families have been severely traumatised and a healthcare support system regardless of whether it was the most ideal or not was shaken to its knees.

Apart from violating domestic law – the National Health Act 61 (2003) and the Mental Health Care Act 17 (2002)) – as a State party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), among other international instruments, there are several frameworks that were contravened by South Africa. This case provides an opportunity for some serious learning for South Africa (SA) as well as other African States. Learning from previous mistakes is vital for progress. Focus should be directed on how to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. It is probably more important to provide guidance to State parties or governments when they have made mistakes as opposed to the naming and shaming – particularly after the fact. To be productive, however requires the state or those in power to accept responsibility, acknowledge their mistakes and be receptive to the guidance. Ultimately, objectively and substantively unpacking the critical aspects or points at which things went wrong in the Gauteng saga from an international human rights perspective would be beneficial for the planning and implementation of these types of projects or programmes in the future.

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We must include and empower people with disabilities

william_asekaAuthor: William Aseka
Disability Rights Program Advisor, Kenya Human Rights Commission

Today one billion people around the world are living with disabilities. According to Kenya National Survey for Persons with Disabilities more than three million people in Kenya are living with disabilities. Many persons with disabilities have good jobs and proper education. However, far too many persons with disabilities in Kenya face barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. The right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society.

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Of stereotypes and the ‘unsound mind’ clauses

Patricia_MwanyisaAuthor: Patricia Mwanyisa
Human Rights, Justice and Rule of Law Programme Officer, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

Recently, during my studies I delved into the concept of stereotypes and their effects, albeit from a gender perspective. This academic encounter has become an important one to both my personal and professional frames of reference. I have discovered that my prior use and appreciation of the term stereotype was presumptuous, without depth and assumed familiarity. I had nonchalantly used the term often, in writing and conversation without fully appreciating the intricacies of this concept.

Quite worrying one might say, coming from a professional working on human rights, justice and equality issues – but I believe that my nonchalance is common among many of us. We tend to have a general over familiarisation with issues that form part of the realm in which we work and operate without necessarily appreciating the rudimentary theories underpinning particular terms or concepts.

So I think I deserve some credit for acknowledging my deficiency, and urge that we do not rush to deem as catastrophic such inadequacies in all circumstances because it is impossible to know everything about everything, even in your most familiar of territory. To be expected to know and fully understand each and every detail about a subject is a naïve expectation on the part of peers and an arrogant unintelligent assertion on the part of any such declarants. The universally renowned great mind Michelangelo, is remembered for his famous quote “ancora imparo” reportedly made at the age of 87 which means ‘I am still learning’ – well, so am I. So I ask for your indulgence as I share some of my learning on how stereotypes perpetuate inequality and marginalisation – you might just also learn that we all are still learning and need to keep learning.

I have learnt that stereotypes are a component of stigma. They assign negative attributes to socially salient differences forming what social identity theorists call in-group and out-group categorisation. People tend to stereotype as a means of screening people into either the in-group (us) or out-group (them) which in eventuality determines whether a group is accepted or rejected.

This categorisation (stereotyping) of other(s), provides people with a feeling of comfort and confidence based on what they are accustomed to, for predictability and personal security’s sake. Whilst it may be argued in some quarters that categorisation is useful in, for example, target marketing or planning of community and development projects among other mass planning purposes; unfortunately the cumulative effects of general categorisation and consequent stereotyping in most circumstances reinforce and perpetuate inequality.

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