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Opening Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Presidential Working Group on Disability, Union Buildings

Director Generals,
Members of the Presidential Working Group on Disability,
Government Officials,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to welcome all of you to this long overdue meeting of Presidential Working Group on Disability. 
This Working Group has not met since 2016 and we have lost valuable time and important opportunities to engage. 
At the end of January this year, Cabinet reviewed the number of Presidential Working Groups and Councils that have been established over the past few years.
It was guided by the need to use Working Groups as effective platforms to accelerate implementation of the National Development Plan. 
Cabinet identified the Presidential Working Group on Disability as one of the fora that are critical to advancing our transformative agenda in a collaborative and inclusive manner.
This Presidential Working group will advise our office on measures to advance the empowerment of persons with disabilities as government plans, budgets and implements programmes.
This Working Group is expected to advise our office on the steps required to institutionalise the right of persons with disabilities to represent themselves in all public entities and fora.
The Working Group is also expected to advise our office on measures that will economically empower persons with disabilities.
We have international obligations, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which need domestication. 
This Working Group should advise on how we accelerate the domestication process. 
It is significant that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes explicit references to disability.
The issue of disability features in a number of Sustainable Develoment Goals, ranging from education to social, political and economic inclusion.
As a signatory to the 2030 Agenda, South Africa is committed to achieving these goals.
A significant recent development on the continent was the adoption by the AU Heads of State and Government Summit in January 2018 of the Africa Disability Protocol.
The Protocol provides a legal instrument “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all persons with disabilities, and to ensure respect for their inherent dignity”. 
Guide by these global and continental agreements, we hope that this Working Group will provide advice on how we also speed up the implementation of the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This is a platform for dialogue and exchange of ideas.
It is also a place where we must together develop strategies to address the prejudice, ignorance and neglect that persons with disabilities often face in their interactions with government, in the private sector and across society.
We approach these tasks from the understanding that government is responsible for enabling the adoption, harmonisation and implementation of national legislation, policies and programmes.
However, the whole of society must contribute towards the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities.
We must engage in particular with the corporate sector to ensure that they have policies and strategies for, among other things, the hiring of persons with disabilities, appropriate training and skills development programmes and ensuring easy access into workplaces and other buildings.
The Disability Report in the last Census, conducted in 2011, estimates that there are approximately 2.8 million persons with disabilities in South Africa.
The Report bears testament to the progress we have made to advance the situation of persons with disabilities.
In the education sector, for example, there has been a discernible increase in the number of persons with disabilities enrolled in all levels of the education system up to tertiary institution. 
Special school enrolment went up from 64,000 in 2002 to 120,000 in 2015.
Enrolment of learners with disabilities in ordinary schools went up from 77,000 in 2002 to 121,000 in 2015.
And yet, despite these advances, it is estimated that approximately half a million children of school-going age with disabilities remain out of school.
This is a huge challenge.
With respect to employment, there has been disappointing progress.
In December 2017, employees with disabilities constituted just 1.3% of the workforce of designated employers in both the public and private sector.
Persons with disabilities constituted 0.9% of the public sector workforce, and 1.25% in national government departments.
Gauteng was the only sphere of government to exceed the 2% target, reaching 2.18% by December 2017.  
Government continues to provide assistance to persons with disabilities in various spheres, including through social grants.
As at December 2018, 150,00 care dependency grants, 1 million disability grants and 215,000 grant-in-aid allowances were being disbursed.
We therefore have an important foundation from which to accelerate the pace at which we are changing the lives of persons with disabilities and their families.
In addition to the broad range of measures we need to take in this regard, one of the areas that has been a source of contention over several years, has been the location in government of the coordination of issues relating to persons with disabilities.
As I announced during the State of the Nation Address earlier this month, we are reorganising government to make it more efficient and more suited to the developmental tasks before us.
We plan to have this process finalised by the end of the term of this administration in May.
We are keen to hear the views of the Working Group to inform our considerations on this issue.
Last year, Cabinet approved the first annual report on the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 
I trust this Working Group will engage with this progress report, identify the successes, the challenges and gaps that need to be filled. 
This will inform our approach to the implementation of the White Paper. 
We are committed to ensure that the interests and rights of persons with disabilities are effectively mainstreamed across all departments in the next Medium Term Strategic Framework for 2020-2025.
This must be accompanied by an integrated information system that is able to track performance against targets. 
Every state organ must be reporting substantively on the inclusion of people with disability within their respective mandates. 
We are working with renewed vigour and commitment to ensure that people with disabilities are a part of a cohesive society.
We are working to ensure that they have equitable access to education, health services, employment, social security and all the opportunities that come with the benefits of living in a democracy. 
Last week, I participated in the debate on the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders.
Participants strongly raised their concerns about the provision of facilities and services to persons with disabilities in areas under traditional authority in particular and rural areas more broadly.
This is an issue that we need to pay attention to, appreciating that traditional leaders can be important partners in addressing these concerns.
We should see this meeting as the first part of a new and reinvigorated journey of cooperation and collaboration.
This meeting is an opportunity for us, as government, to engage with you, listen to you, to understand the challenges you experience and together to find solutions. 
The Presidential Working Group gives us an opportunity to identify catalytic interventions that will change the lives of persons with disabilities meaningfully, regardless of their race, age, gender, socio-economic status, type and severity of impairment, or geographical location. 
It is platforms of this nature that give us an opportunity to listen to one another so that we can fulfil our Constitutional mandate to build an inclusive society for all. 
I thank you.