Joint Sitting debate by Mr Lewis Nzimande, ANC MP on Team South Africa and the London Paralympics 2012 Games

16 October 2012

As I stand to speak on this occasion of congratulating our South African Paralympic team, eleven (11) days from today on the 27 October 2012, as the people of this beautiful country, we will be celebrating the birthday of one of the struggle icons, former President of the African National Congress, comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo.

An icon, who under very difficult and challenging circumstances, contributed immensely to a vision of a non-racial, non-sexist, free, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

Today, I am reminded of his speech when speaking on the vision of a future South Africa, comrade OR uttered these words “Like all other patriots, we love our country and its peoples - all its peoples. It is a varied land of snowcapped mountain peaks, of deserts and subtropical greenery covering vast mineral resources. Its warm seas to the east and cold ones to the west contain also large animal and mineral resources.

Our peoples, with their varied cultures which are continuously mingling and interacting to their mutual enrichment, exhibit, despite their conditions, a great love for life and a sensitive joy in the creative and humane endeavors of the peoples of the world, without exception - .

On Tuesday 21 August hundreds of our people gathered at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and treated our Paralympic Team to a heroes send off as they were departing for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Millions of them on the other hand, who could not be there, could not wait to get home from work and be in front of their television sets, others to turn on their radios to listen and watch this send off.

They did so with one thing in mind that these were their heroes who were going to represent them on the world stage, who were going to fly our beautiful flag higher and higher.

As South Africans we had all the confidence that these sons and daughters of our country will without any doubt do us proud as a nation.

Yes, a team of 62 athletes (seven sporting codes of athletics, cycling, equestrian, rowing, swimming, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis) flew to the Paralympic Games to improve on the 2008 team`s performance in Beijing of 30 medals and 21 of them gold.

When the games commenced on the 29th of August they became our daily programme, all of us anxious to see the heroes compete and winning and they did so.

Few days after, medals started pouring in for South Africa and our flag flew higher and higher, much to the delight of us all as South Africans.

By the last day of the games, on the 9th of September, as South Africans we were all over the moon, indeed a proud nation because of the sterling performance of these true sons and daughters of the nation who wore the South African colours with pride and respect.

This team is a true inspiration as they brought home 29 medals from this year’s Paralympics Games in London, a total of 8 Gold medals, 12 Silver medals and 9 Bronze medals.

This performance meant that as South Africa we finished in the top 20 of the over 70 countries that participated in the games.

The joy the nation had was illustrated by, how these heroes were welcomed back home, how South Africans young and old received them at the OR Tambo International Airport and by the presence of large number of disabled young people.

Our paralympians showed that Paralympics are games of highest order, where brave individuals, people who against all odds made it in life and competed normally in the world stage.

Again I am reminded of a speech, this time by President Nelson Mandela at the opening of the first annual South African Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp, when he said:

“What you are doing is helping to change not only your own lives, but the future of our entire nation. In the past little was done in South Africa to allow people with disabilities access to physical recreation programmes.

In reality, there is no reason why any children should be denied the fun of participation in sport and recreation. But it has taken the disabled themselves to show the way -. (NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US)

We say to our heroes well done sons and daughters of our country, you have shown without any doubt that as a country and as people we can always put our trust in you and you will never fail us.

As we congratulate these heroes, let us not forget to salute their parents and relatives who not only help them to grow and lead a normal life but instilled confidence and discipline throughout their lives. Today, they are not the only ones who reap the rewards but the nations at large benefit immensely through their efforts.

The never give up attitude and courage displayed by these heroes, which inspired millions of our upcoming athletes and sports people,is owed to the coaches and managers whose understanding and patience is evident today.

South Africans wherever they are, are smiling and proud to be associated with you and with the Rainbow Nation.

But all this should not be interpreted as meaning that everything is well, therefore bed of roses because there are still areas of concern which we are still grappling with and we should all commit to resolve.

The first one is broadening access, as there is still lack of adequate facilities for people with disabilities especially for our rural communities. In these areas sport activities tend to be for the fortunate, disadvantaged people find it hard to participate.

The second one is lack of sufficient broadcast and media because we only see our people with disabilities during big events like the international games, whilst very little is shown on a local level.

The third one is the whole issue of affordability of equipment and devices for people with disabilities.

Another point relates to equity, as we struggle with employment equity we believe everybody can contribute positively to the development of disability sport.

We welcome the decision by government to bring parity on the medal rewards because this lives up to our constitution of not discriminating on the basis of disability.

We need to call upon our private sector in general to come on board as there is still lack of sponsorship for our disability sport.

We need to recognise the role that the corporate citizenship can play in growing the sport for people with disabilities, we have failed on the other areas but we should not fail on this one.

Particular due acknowledgement must go to the Nedbank for its crucial role played in being a longstanding sponsor of the South African Paralympic team since readmission in 1992.

Nedbank as a proud partner of Team South Africa,has made a considerable investment in the growth and development of South African athletes with disabilities through the Nedbank National Championships for Physically Disabled.

In conclusion, disabled people out there are really thanking them for generosity shown by this greatness and achievement which will contribute to the positive image about them.