/ 21 August 2008

Enabling people with HIV

Companies are recruiting HIV-positive people for state-funded learnerships designed for the disabled in order to boost their employment equity ratings.

The practice has been strongly criticised by Disabled People of South Africa (DPSA) and the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE).

DPSA chair Muzi Nkosi said: ”If companies are hiring people who are HIV-positive and seeing that as hiring people who are disabled, they are missing the point and misrepresenting what a disability is.”

Nkosi said disability is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s activities or senses.

CEE chairperson, Jimmy Manyi agreed with the criticism, saying, ”HIV on its own cannot be regarded as a disability.”

However, this was disputed by the co-ordinator of one antiretroviral clinic where HIV-positive people were being recruited for the learnerships.

Sipho Maseko, coordinator at Themba Lethu Clinic at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg, said: ”There is such a stigma, and often exclusion of HIV-positive people, that it can be both a disadvantage and a disability.”

He was speaking as potential candidates were being interviewed by Athena Interactive Training Network, a Durban-based company accredited by the services Seta to recruit disabled people.

Susan Dippenaar of Athena said her company had been having difficulty finding candidates in Gauteng and so they contacted disease management organisation Right to Care, which facilitated the interviews at Themba Lethu.

Dr Dennis Rubel of Right to Care said finding employment for HIV-positive patients was hugely beneficial. ”As part of rehabilitating HIV patients and reintegrating them into society we try to help them find employment so they can support themselves and continue to live healthy lives and take their medication.”

Athena’s Devon Palaneer said companies were keen on the programme, and that the Independent Newspaper Group and Sun International were two of their biggest clients: ”I think the selling point for companies was that it is free, they don’t pay the learners, they get about R50 000 tax off per person, and it ups the companies’ BEE ratings and equity plan ratings.”

One of the successful interviewees at Themba Lethu was Mbulelo Mangqu who will start his new job in September.

Mangqu discovered he had HIV in 1996 and says that while he does not view himself as being disabled, HIV can be a disability: ”What companies are doing is giving a chance to HIV-positive people whose HIV status has led to their unemployment, or no chance of employment at all.”

Another applicant for the learnerships, Nthabeleng Molefe, said she believes HIV is a disability because it is a lifelong limitation on one’s lifestyle. ”It’s something you have and cannot change; it is limiting because you are not in full control of your health, you are on permanent medication and could get seriously ill any time.”