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AbledPeople post banner shows a black and white photo of former South African President Nelson Mandel looking out between the bars on the window of his former prison cell. The headline reads: Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013: A Champion Of Human Rights Belongs To The Ages.

Mandela Was Also A Champion For Persons Living With A Disability


‘We have tried to give special emphasis to the rights of people living with disability. It is so easy to think of equality demands with reference primarily to race, colour, religion and gender; and to forget, or to relegate to secondary importance, the vast discrimination against disabled persons.’

Nelson Mandela 2004

In support of Scope’s ‘Time To Get Equal’ campaign


Former South African President Nelson Mandela is shown sitting in a wingback chair in a silver-grey shirt with gold and brown vines and leaves with an AIDS awareness ribbon pin clipped to his collar. He is emphasizing a point with his right hand and index finger while sitting in front of a poster for the Time To Get Equal Campaign.


An Extraordinary Life Fades To Black


The news came at a moment of art imitating life, his life, and as the motion picture dramatization of his life story came to an end, the official announcement was made that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s life had also come to an end at the age of 95.


The occasion was the Royal Film Premiere in London of ‘Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom’ in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.



An audible gasp was heard from the audience, as producer Anant Singh made the following announcement as the credits rolled, and as the actor who portrayed Nelson MandelaIdris Elba – broke into tears behind him:



Anant Singh had been informed of Mandela’s passing while the movie was playing, as were Prince William and two of Nelson Mandela’s daughters – Zindzi and Zenani – who were at the premiere. The daughters left to return to their hotel but insisted that the movie continue. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, expressed his condolences as he and his wife Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge,  left the premiere:



As millions of people around the world reflect on Nelson Mandela’s legacy as a statesman, freedom-fighter to some – terrorist to others, and in the end, as a human being, we reflect on, and pay tribute to, his never-ending mission to enlighten, inspire and set an example for the improvement of human rights and equality regardless of race, gender or ability.



After he emerged from 27 years of imprisonment to eventually lead South Africa out of decades of Apartheid as the nation’s first elected black President in 1994, Nelson Mandela set the bar higher for human rights, including the rights of persons with disabilities in his speech opening the First Annual South African Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp, in Johannesburg, on December 4th, 1995:


‘The new South Africa we are building should be accessible and open to everyone.  Disabled children are equally entitled to an exciting and brilliant future.  We must see to it that we remove the obstacles: poor access to facilities; poor education; lack of transport; lack of funding or unavailability of equipment. Only then will the rights of the disabled to equal opportunities become a reality.’ 


The right to equality and non-discrimination of people living with disabilities in South Africa are protected in the country’s Constitution and Bill of Rights, which Nelson Mandela signed on 10 December 1996.  Under the terms of the Constitution, disabled persons are also entitled to human dignity and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.


According to the last census in 2001, over 2.3 million people in South Africa had various forms of disability – amounting to 5% of South Africa’s estimated population of  50 million.


In 2004, Mandela gave his support to a campaign launched by the UK charity Scope that was called ‘Time To Get Equal’, as you can see in the photo near the top of this post. He voiced his support in this message to the 2004 Conference For The Disabled. The text is courtesy of the Nelson Mandela Foundation:





This is a very special month and period in South Africa. And because the international community contributed so much to bring about the special situation we are celebrating in our country we believe that this is also a special period for the world.


We in South Africa are celebrating a decade of non-racial, non-sexist, non-discriminatory democracy. We went to the polls in our third democratic election just this past week. All of this stood in celebration of our democracy, based on the values of human dignity, the achievement of human equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.


Under the equality clause in our constitutions bill of rights we affirm that, and I quote:


The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.


The constitution continues to affirm that no person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more of the grounds mentioned above.


We have striven to give legislative and regulatory content to these founding precepts in our nation-building constitution. We have in this past decade progressed, slow as it may have been, towards living together in the acknowledgement of the basic equality and right to dignity of all human beings.


We have tried to give special emphasis to the rights of people living with disability. It is so easy to think of equality demands with reference primarily to race, colour, religion and gender; and to forget, or to relegate to secondary importance, the vast discrimination against disabled persons.


We cannot claim to reached anywhere near to where a society should be in terms of practical equality of the disabled. We continue to try. We realise that legislation and regulations are not sufficient or the end of the long walk to equality and non-discrimination. Education, raising of awareness, conscientisation, eradication of stigmatisation: these are key elements in achieving non-discrimination against the disabled in practice and in their everyday lives.


A democracy is an order of social equality and non-discrimination. Our compatriots who are disabled challenge us in a very special way to manifest in real life those values of democracy.


It is not a question of patronising philanthropy towards disabled people. They do not need the patronage of the non-disabled. It is not for them to adapt to the dominant and dominating world of the so-called non-disabled. It is for us to adapt our understanding of a common humanity; to learn of the richness of how human life is diverse; to recognise the presence of disability in our human midst as an enrichment of our diversity.


Organisations like Scope help us to that greater understanding and I ask you to support Scope in its fight to end discrimination and to sign the equality pledge.


I thank you.

Nelson Mandela 2004



Three years after this conference, South Africa ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in November, 2007. 


And now, it is for the next generation of South Africans who refer to their beloved national hero, Nelson Mandela, by his traditional Xhosa clan name, “Madiba” , or “Tata” (father), to protect and further evolve his legacy of equal rights for everyone as a reminder and admonishment to other nations around the world that still marginalize their people because of race, gender or ability.


As U.S. President Barack Obama stated,  Nelson Mandela was “one of the “most influential, courageous and profoundly good” people to have ever lived. He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today he’s gone home,” an emotional Obama said, in remarks from the White House. “He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.” 




“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Nelson Mandela


Abled Public Service link to The Nelson Mandela Foundation shows a photo looking up at the late President as he gives his trademark closed-fist salute with a stylized sun symbol above the name of the foundation. Click here to go to the website.


Abled Public Service link to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.  A stylized red/orange sun is above the name of the Fund while an illustration of children standing side by side holding handsin vibrant colors of red, blue, black yellow and green, including a child in a wheelchair placed above the sub-text: Changing the way society treats its children and youth. Click here to go to the website.


Abled Public Service link to the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation.  The logo consists of two stylized postage stamps depicting Nelson Mandela and Cecil Rhodes. Mr. Rhodes was an English businessman, mining magnate and politician in South Africa and was named the chairman of the De Beers diamond mining company at its founding in 1888. He set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford University in England, which is funded by his estate. Click here to go to the Foundation's website.


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