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Media Statement: Failure by Social Development Dept. to adequately fund the Johannesburg Association for the Blind contribute to human rights violations at the school, SAHRC finds

ATTENTION: EDITORS AND REPORTERS

07 October 2014

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has found that systematical challenges such as late payments, lack of coordinated approach to address disability issues within residential facilities contributed to human rights challenges found at the Johannesburg Association for the Blind.

The Commission initiated an own investigation following an expose’ by SABC Programme, “Cutting Edge”  where seven blind students who were residents at the association’s premises alleged that they were evicted by the association out of their residents with no alternative accommodation. The programme alleged that these students were forced to sleep outside the building for two nights.

Furthermore, the programme also focused on the alleged misuse of vehicle by the CEO, and the consequent unavailability for use by residents impacting on residents’ freedom of movement; and the alleged poor quality and quantity of food served to residents.

During preliminary assessment, the Commission noted that aspects such as payment of rentals, consequence of non-payment and resultant breaches such as disputes, being of a contractual and civil nature.

The Commission narrowed its investigation to allegations regarding evictions and poor or inadequate food in line with its constitutional mandate, after finding no evidence of misuse of the vehicle by the CEO.
The association is partly financed through donations, the payment of rent by residents and partly subsidised by the Department of Social Development (DSD)

The Commission considered the allegations as presented in the programme, interviews conducted with the students-residents, the meetings held with representatives from the association, and the facts gleaned from the Commission’s own inspection of the association premises.

The Commission found the following:

•    Allegation that seven residents were evicted: The Commission found that only one student-resident was evicted, following series of internal disciplinary procedures. Having considered the internal process leading up to the eviction, the Commission found that there is no violation in this respect.
•    With regard to allegations that food served was of a poor quality:
The Commission notes that the DSD does provide social security to the school as informed by the Memo of Understanding. However, failure by the DSD to ensure consistency regarding payment dates hinders the school’s ability to plan budget, limiting its ability to take advantage of costs cutting measures and has an indirect impact on, and limiting effect on resident’s right to food. The MOU does not indicate the date at which the DSD shall make payments, it only stipulates that such payment shall be made at four installments.
•    Refusal for student to picket: The protection of the right to complain is important in South Africa considering the country’s history of inequality. Residents featured in the programme were attempting to exercise their rights to assemble and protest. Actions by the association not to allow these students to picket amounted to limiting their right to protest. However, the Commission accepts that the school was acting to protect the rights of other vulnerable non-protesting residents as well as staff. Therefore, the Commission finds the limitation to have been reasonable and justified.
The SAHRC recommends that within six month of receipt of this report:

•    The DSD revisit the terms of the existing MOU between it and the school and that both parties enter into an agreement for fixed dates for payment of subsidies.
•    The school develops guidelines to assist donors, outlining preference regarding quality of perishable donations and preferred timelines for receipt
•    Within three months of receipt of this report consult on, and review its existing complaints handling procedures with residents and stakeholders with a view to making revisions to specifically include provisions for timeframes for respondents to complaints, completion of a log report for each complaint received with timeframes for the completion of such reports, the exercise by residents of the right to peaceful protests with clear procedure on how and where such protests shall take place
The association provides the Commission with a report setting out its progress in respect of the implementation of the recommendations within six months of receipt of this report.

The Commission recognizes that the association has had a long history of excellent service in the disability sector. Organisations dealing with the disabled do invaluable work in providing for, protecting and empowering vulnerable members of our society.
The Commission further recognises that these organisations are dependent on the good will of others.
ENDS

Issued by the SA Human Rights Commission

Isaac Mangena
Spokesperson
071 884 8273

For comments email info@sahrc.org.za [Back]



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