Open Letter to Mayor of Cape Town: Geordin Hill-Lewis
Natalie Johnson

Dear Mr Mayor

We are the Western Cape Network on Disability, a group of disabled people and allies mandated to advance the rights of people with disabilities in the Western Cape. Founded in 1997, we represent 92 organisations of and for people with disabilities, most of which provide disability-related services within the bounds of your city. You might be familiar with our name as we have approached you several times since you came into office asking to meet with you to table some issues that are important to our community. But you have consistently dismissed our requests and disregarded our concerns sent to you in writing since taking up office on 18 November 2021.

Western Cape Network on Disability taking a trip on the new EMU train using their own ramps to board the train due to inaccessibility of the train

Nothing about us without us. This slogan is the cornerstone of the disability rights movement. It underpins the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), which South Africa has signed and ratified. The CRPD recognises that people are disabled not only by their impairments, but also by the systemic barriers which society places in their way. This goes beyond the absence of wheelchair ramps and extends to the way that disabled people are often left out of decision-making in matters which affect them. There are approximately 873,000 people with disabilities in the Western Cape, and approximately 560,000 in Cape Town. So, disabled people are stakeholders in every public project. However, people with disabilities remain largely invisible in our city. This is because, while some aspects of the city are indeed accessible, the city ecosystem as a whole is not welcoming to disabled people. There are significant gaps which we have been trying to bring to your attention.

Western Cape Network on Disability group preparing to board the train at Cape Town station

Yet, without any effort to understand our circumstances, you have pronounced such issues as accessible transport and housing to be solved. We disagree. Because you do not care to listen, you leave us no option but to conduct our communications with you via open letters in the press. If you continue to refuse to make allowance for focused, time-optimised meetings with us in your schedule, we will publish our concerns one by one.

We trust that you want the best for the people of Cape Town. So do we. We are not here to waste your time, but to help you serve the people to whom you are dedicating this time in your life.

Western Cape Network on Disability group trip to test accessibility of the new EMU trains

It’s Disability Rights Awareness Month, and the 3rd of December will again be marked as International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This “celebration” is an empty gesture amid ongoing marginalisation of disabled people. We stand with our 92 members serving thousands of disabled people across the city, and demand that you recognise us. We don’t want to speak to your councilor’s and committee members – we have done so and will continue to do so – we want to speak to you directly. We want to know that the mayor of our city understands the challenges that we face, and that he is willing to work with us to address them.

Yours sincerely

Dr Michelle Botha

Chairperson: Western Cape Network on Disability on behalf of The Board of the Western Cape Network on Disability and 92 member organisations