More than half a million disabled children of school-going age in South Africa cannot access any form of education, according to Human Rights Watch.

This week on Special Assignment premieres Health-e News Service’s Legacy of Exclusion which investigates access to education for disabled children in South Africa and reveals the devastating impact a lack of access can have on both disabled youth and their parents. Education is a right enshrined in our constitution but for many, accessing it is an uphill battle.

It took Phumzile Vilikazi five years and eight schools before she successfully enrolled her autistic son, Mxolisi, in a school that catered for his needs. Due to a lack of suitable schools nearby, the pair wake up at 4.30am each day to travel for four hours on three modes of transport to reach Mxolisi’s school on time. Phumzile is willing to travel these distances because she wants to ensure a future for her son.

“For me education is everything. You can’t have a life if you don’t have an education.” Phumzile Vilikazi

Others have not been as lucky as Phumzile and Mxolisi. In rural Ingwavuma in Kwazulu-Natal, 22-year-old Makhosi Ndabambi is stuck in Grade 7. She is wheelchair bound but that is where her disability ends. Makhosi is completely mentally capable but has not been able to proceed to high school as none of the schools in the area cater to her specific needs.

“It makes me angry and it makes me want to cry because I want to finish school. I want to matriculate… without that what will I be able to do?” Makhosi Ndabambi

Through these personal stories, Special Assignment explores the dire schooling situation for disabled children across South Africa.

Watch Legacy of Exclusion, Sunday night on Special Assignment SABC 3 at 8.30pm

Written and produced by Health-e News Service