Petition by Mr Graham Clarke

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Meeting report

STANDING COMMITTEE ON PRIVATE MEMBER'S LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS AND SPECIAL PETITIONS
12 September 2001
PETITION BY MR GRAHAM CLARKE

Relevant Documents
Request For Assistance From Parliament For Severely Disabled
Profile of Success
Address to the Committee

Chairperson:
Mr Hendrikse (ANC)

SUMMARY
The meeting was convened in order to hear a presentation by Mr Graham Clarke regarding his petition for financial assistance from Parliament. After hearing his story, the committee concluded unanimously that his case was a special petition and thus warranted assistance from the Government.

MINUTES

Mr Hendrikse extended a particular welcome to Mr Graham Clarke and Ms Margot Luyt. This committee dealt with proposals from Members of Parliament, and with petitions for pensions. A petition was submitted on behalf of Mr Clarke and it had been signed and was now before Parliament, awaiting a response. As a result, Mr Clarke had been invited to come and make a formal presentation about his story.

Mr Clarke thanked the Chairperson for this opportunity. He introduced Ms Luyt and explained that she was his lover. He was a paraplegic and that he was unable to speak. This was the result of a serious stroke he had in 1984. On a less serious note, he stated that he was sure everybody had noticed by now that he was not wearing any shoes. Laughingly, he said that if Nelson Mandela could meet important world figures with his shirt hanging out of his pants, there was nothing wrong with him coming without any shoes!

The stroke affected his emotional centre and as a result everybody should ignore any emotional outbursts during the course of the meeting. He was not sad at all and that he looked at this situation as his disability.

Mr Clarke explained how his communication device, The Liberator, worked. He was required to select icon figures in order to produce words. The pictures would indicate where the programmed words were located, and the device contained approximately 5.500 pre-programmed words. As far as the words not contained in the device, he would have to spell them. The Liberator would then do the talking for him. The Liberator could be linked to a computer, which could then act as his keyboard.

After completing his three-year diploma in 1979, he was employed as a Health Inspector at Durban City Council. Three months on the job, he wanted to resign because it was not as he had expected. His brother suggested to him that he accompanied a team going to Antarctica for a year with him. He decided to take on the adventure and that after an application period, he was selected as the meteorologist for the team. After undertaking an intensive training period in Pretoria, ten men left for Antarctica.

After a year had passed it was now time to return to South Africa. However, one man fell ill and as a result Mr Clarke volunteered to stay on for another six months with the new team. It was at this stage that he realised what he wanted to do with his life. He resolved that upon returning to South Africa, he would teach disabled and retarded children, thus giving him an opportunity to make a difference to the world in some way. Upon returning to South Africa, he undertook his career change. However, another team persuaded him to return to Marion Island in Antarctica, and given that he needed the money, he signed up for another year. Unfortunately, after three months on the island, he fell ill and became unconscious. He was flown back to Tygerberg Hospital in South Africa. At this time he was 26 years old. It was then that he learnt that he had suffered a stroke, and it was this that robbed him of his ability to speak.

Mr Clarke made it clear that it was not his intention to obtain a considerable amount of money in order to allow him to live an extravagant and lazy life. Marion Island taught him to become involved in society. Without blowing his own horn, he set out his achievements over the years. As he spent most of his time working on his computer, he was now able to be in control of his own correspondence. As a result, he had assisted many people, especially disabled persons, all over the world via email. In addition, he took part in student surveys, email discussions, and addressed speech therapy students. He is involved in the National Co-ordinating Committee of Interface, with the aim of assisting all persons who are unable to speak. He is also a member of the Quadriplegic Association of South Africa, with the goal of encouraging and empowering self-help.

Mr Clarke stated that before ending, he wanted to encourage everybody in the room to 'keep on keeping on'. One had to face a lot in life, and there was no explaining why some had to face much more than others. It was his opinion that because life was all about experiences, one had to learn to navigate through them. He said that as a result, whenever he felt like dying, he would build himself up from that point. He would get his courage from considering others that managed under even worse circumstances. He appreciated the presence of the higher power and acknowledged that we all have a pre-determined destiny. Life was all about love, and that everyone should strive for such qualities. Given the fact that he has been on the receiving end of love, he said that he was in a position to understand that it was very appreciated. Unfortunately, he explained that he had also received disrespect and lack of compassion, and that whenever he felt that he could not go on, he was determined not to let anyone break him.

Mr Clarke ended by stating that he had set goals for himself. He would like to work for, and raise funds in order to buy a Combie to enable him to go about his work in a more efficient manner. He would like to become more involved with the development on non-talking and disabled persons. He concluded that it was a great honour to address the committee and he thanked everybody for listening.

Discussion
Mr Hendrikse thanked to Mr Clarke before asking whether members of the floor had any questions to put before Mr Clarke.

Mr Coetzee-Kasper (ANC) asked if Ms Luyt had applied for a grant from welfare given the fact that she was taking care of Mr Clarke.

Ms Luyt stated that she did not follow this route. Mr Clarke lived in an institution where he was taken care of, and he stayed with her only during weekends.

Mr Hendrikse stated that the petition by Mr Clarke indicated that he worked for the Department of Transport when he fell ill. However, he was not given the Workman's Compensation and was given only the pension for temporary employment. In terms of the rules of Parliament, Mr Clarke was petitioning for recourse because there was no other legal course. The Department of Finance said that the Government Employee Pension Fund did not have any provisions that would enable it to supplement to the pension. It was for this reason that Mr Clarke was before this committee. They would review his petition, but ultimately the final decision would lie with the National Assembly.

Mr Chohan (ANC) asked whether immediate medical attention at the time of falling ill would have altered the consequences.

Mr Clarke said that medical doctors believed that it would have been a lot different if this had occurred. He reminded the floor that he was the paramedic of the team!

Mr Magwanishe (ANC) stated that one needed to express the happiness invoked by meeting a man such as Mr Clarke. This is because his remarkable strength made him an encouragement to many people

Mr Clarke expressed his appreciation for this comment.

Mr Heine (DP) concurred with the previous speaker. He explained that any recommendation on this matter would have consequences for the future, but that Mr Clarke's case was completely unique. He said that Mr Clarke was contracted by the State, and was airlifted only nine days after falling ill. He felt that as members of this committee, they had been granted the opportunity to view special circumstances. It was his opinion that this was indeed one of them. He sincerely stated that the petition should be looked at favourably.

Mr Abrahams (UDM) said that the merits and the de-merits of the case should not be discussed presently before Mr Clarke, but at a later stage.

Mr Hendrikse said that this decision was up to the floor.

Mr Mshudulu (ANC) began by thanking Mr Clarke for his presentation. He referred directly to the Treasury Report in order to substantiate his argument. He mentioned Clause 9 in terms of which treasury stated that it would support a petition agreed upon by this committee. He said on behalf of the ANC and of this committee that treasury should make a cost analysis which would serve to benefit Mr Clarke. For this reason the committee was not in a position to give Mr Clarke a figure. However, he stated that they should motivate Parliament to endorse the petition.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) firstly concurred with previous speakers who mentioned the strength of Mr Clarke. He also felt that the merits of the case should not be discussed, and that the costs should also be left to the treasury. He added that if there were a possibility of negligence on the part of the government, this would make it necessary to look favourably on Mr Clarke. As a result, he felt that these propositions should be taken to Parliament.

Mr Abrahams made it clear that his party fully supported the motion put forward. The merits of the case should not be discussed, although he fully supported the granting of the petition. It was despicable that Mr Clarke had to take this long route to get to the committee. What was being done in this meeting was simply not good enough, because it showed that Mr Clarke did not have a mechanism to address his issue except through this route. He proposed that a mechanism be created in Parliament in order to automatically enable such cases to be dealt with.

Mr Hendrikse set out the principal decisions of the meeting. Members of the committee would recommend to the National Assembly that the petition be granted. In addition, the details of the award were to be discussed with the relevant Department in Finance in order to determine the amount.

Mr Mshudulu made it clear that the Committee was not motivated by the presence of Mr Clarke to reach the decision that had been agreed upon. The committee was moved when the petition was received. The strength of Mr Clarke was seen from his documentation and as a result the committee was not motivated by his presence.

Mr Gerber (ANC) said that he agreed with everything that had been said by previous speakers. On page 3 of the Treasury Report, the information there must be taken into account as a serious indicator of what is involved in the matter.

Mr Hendrikse stated that it had already been made clear that such matters were to be left to the relevant departments and would not be discussed by this quorum.

Mr Mfundise (UCDP) concurred with the feeling of the house regarding the urgency of the matter. He was pleased that this petition was submitted to the committee, and he felt that thanks should be given in this regard.

Mr Clarke explained that it was no inconvenience for him to come to Parliament again if it was necessary in reaching a decision. He said that he always enjoyed getting out of the institution he lived in.

Mr Hendrikse said that the privilege was with the committee. He reminded Mr Clarke that after the meeting he would take him on a tour of Parliament so that Mr Clarke could see the 'red carpets' of the building. He agreed that it had been moved that the committee supported the petition, and that the Departments of Management and Finance would discuss the amounts. On behalf of the committee, he thanked Mr Clarke for coming to the meeting. He concluded that they strongly admired his courage and fortitude, and that they wished him well in the future.

The meeting was adjourned.

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