Prejudice is one of the biggest obstacles for township wheelchair users
Left disabled by a gunshot wound in 2011, Anda Mthulu from Taiwan in Khayelitsha faces much hardship in his township, through both physical and social obstacles.
Mthulu, 28, is an intern who teaches computer skills to wheelchair users at the QuadPara Association of the Western Cape (QAWC) in Durbanville. QAWC “helps [quadriplegics and paraplegics] live their lives to their full potential,” says Mthulu.
Mthulu is able to get in and out of his home when he uses crutches. In his wheelchair he is only able to get out.
Getting to work each day is a hard task for Mthulu as he has to travel on six different taxis, using crutches to get between each drop-off point. He says that taxis will not stop for him if he is in his wheelchair as they do not want to waste time helping him get into the taxi. Trying to use busses is not any easier as most busses only have steps to get in, which means Mthulu has to ask someone to help him or pay someone to be his “helper” for the day. Even if he manages to get on the bus, Mthulu has fallen many times as the driver “does not wait for you while you are trying to find a seat.”
Mthulu mentions that even given his situation, there are other wheelchair users in his community that are far worse off. Mthulu says that living close to the road and still having one leg allow him to be far more mobile compared to his friend, Babalo, who cannot use either of his legs and must travel long distances, through sand, to get from his home to the road.
Mthulu says he is grateful for his father and a neighbour, Simphiwe, who is “the best” - helping Mthulu whenever he is able to.
Simphiwe helps Mthulu get over a cement obstacle in the sandy corridor outside his home.
Mthulu speaks of the vast number of issues that he and other disabled people frequently experience. People charge him to do simple tasks such as sweeping the floor of his lounge or throwing out a bucket of water. His neighbours do not want him to build a ramp from the pavement to the road near his home. Mthulu says people stare at him, don’t greet him, push past him in queues, throw rubbish in his yard, use his clothing line without asking, and rob him of his possessions when he is in his wheelchair. Disheartened by how others treat disabled people, Mthulu remarks, “We are not animals, we are human beings as well.”
Anthony Ghillino, project manager at QAWC, says “there really are so many issues that people in disadvantaged areas who use wheelchairs face.”
“Some of the common issues,” he says are “inaccessible environments, including roads, pavements, sandy or muddy walkways” and “safety, because people with disabilities are seen as a soft target.”
Ghillino says it is difficult for wheelchair users to access places of education be it primary, secondary or tertiary. He also says that poverty strikes families who lose their breadwinner to a disability. “Large families have to survive off a disability grant which is hopelessly inadequate,” he says.
“People have preconceived ideas about what wheelchair users can and can’t do. In some communities a wheelchair user is seen as ‘bad luck’ for example,” says Ghillino.
Mthulu finds it difficult to move around the area near his home because of the sand. When it rains or when neighbours drain water from their homes, this corridor becomes muddy which makes it even harder for Mthulu.
When asked what the City has done for disabled people in his area, Mthulu’s response is “nothing”. He says that in 2012 and 2013 his local councillor “pushed us away,” saying there is “nothing he can do.” Wondering about what has happened since then, Mthulu says “he maybe forgot by now, but I can’t forget.”
Mabuti Velem, councillor for the ward which encloses the area where Mthulu lives, was approached for comment but had not responded by the time of publication.
Mthulu calls on the City to build more ramps for wheelchair users to get onto pavements, provide a taxi system for disabled people, and improve the busses so that they are accessible to wheelchairs.
Not being one to give up though, Mthulu is a dancer at the South African Circle of Dance Academy, a member of the Khadif Basketball team, and has competed in the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge since 2011.
Speaking about his life now, Mthulu says “I have a passion for the job that I am doing - empowering more people with disability, give them hope that there is life after all.”
Mthulu has won many trophies for dancing and many medals for wheelchair-racing.
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