As Zimbabweans celebrate 35 years of independence, people living with disabilities say the country should change the way it perceives those who have various challenges if their lives are to change.
Although the country’s new constitution has some provisions catering for the needs of people living with disabilities, they say a lot still needs to be done to ensure that they access even the most basic facilities in urban and rural areas like toilets and public buildings.
Most people living with disabilities say the passage of time has not witnessed any change in the way local communities perceive them. They say negative attitudes have affected every area of their lives - at playgrounds, streets and work places.
Twenty-four year-old Mandy Dube is disabled in both legs and walks with the aid of a crutch. Dube, who is a champion wheelchair basketball player and regularly features in the paralympic games, says disabled young women live with a lot of pain.
“A female disabled person is not perceived as someone who can do everything that someone without a physical challenge can do. When you meet a man they think we can have fun and everything but I can’t marry you,” says Dube.
However, Dube, who works for the Jairos Jiri Association, says people with disabilities can change public attitudes if they interact more among themselves, through activities such as competitive sport. She says with time people will begin to appreciate their worth.
“It’s important for people with disabilities to meet so that they encourage each other and get to see that you are not alone. Everyone has a disability to some extent and there are others worse than you.”
NO DISABILITY PROGRAMS
Thirty-three year-old Claver Mukazi, who walks with the aid of crutches and at times uses a wheelchair, says people with disabilities should celebrate Zimbabwe’s independence from British rule.
Mukazi, a father of one, who stays with his family in Harare’s Avenues area, however, feels that people with disabilities are being taken for granted by the government, which he believes is shunning them.
He says, “You often hear our government (saying) they have no budget for programmes for people with disabilities. I don’t know whether it’s a donor syndrome which affected them. They just feel that most things for people with disabilities should be catered for by donors.”
The government has over the years attempted to address the needs of people living with disabilities. Section 22 of Zimbabwe’s constitution stipulates that the state and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must, within the limits of the resources available to them, assist persons with physical or mental disabilities to achieve their full potential.
It further compels these bodies to design appropriate welfare programs for them and ensure that buildings and amenities to which the public has access are accessible to persons with disabilities.
But twenty-four year-old Samantha Nyamukondiwa, who spent most of her primary and secondary school years learning together with children having hearing and speech impairment at Lady Tait in Kadoma and Musengezi High School in Chegutu, says this alone is not enough to cater for their needs.
She says they are still being discriminated even in places of recreation and leisure as ablution facilities and walkways are not user-friendly.
“At pubs you don’t have chairs tailor-made for people with disabilities. It’s either you come with your crutches or wheel-chair and stand while others are seated braaing or doing whatever they are doing. You are not able to enjoy freely because we don’t have accommodating facilities for disabled people,” she says.
Thirty-two year-old Bright Kadengu is disabled in both legs but walks without the aid of crutches. Kadengu, who is a talented musician, makes a living from entertaining people at restaurants. He says it is commendable that government appointed two senators to represent people with disabilities. However, he says there should be more legislators to represent their interests.
Kadengu says, “Those people should be monitored because some of these people when you give them these opportunities whereby they represent you, after having a cup of tea they forget. So we need someone who will have a cup of tea but say I will have this cup of tea with my neighbour or my brother, you know.
“We all need to benefit at the end of the day. So we are begging the government to give us an ear and also to make sure they monitor the situation on the ground which is not good at all.”
SOUTH AFRICAN PROGRAMS
Ceedy Chitsiwah, a 34 year-old person who uses a wheel-chair, agrees, noting that Zimbabwe needs to replicate some South African programs for disabled people that were created after independence in 1994, which cater for the needs of those facing various challenges.
“It ridicules our independence to say the least, for instance South Africa came on board very late in 1994 when they attained their independence, but they have managed to do a lot for their people with disabilities. For instance they have an income, their transport system is conducive for any person with a disability to travel to and from work or wherever that person needs to go.”
Chitsiwah also says organizations that are supposed to cater for their needs have let them down.
“We talk of squatting toilets which we find in Mabvuku and Tafara. Nobody has ever thought of it that someone with a disability will need to use such a toilet. To sum it up in Harare we only have one toilet which was built by Council for people with disabilities and that toilet has been converted into an office. All other toilets are privately owned, they are for other companies.”
Shingirai Nyakupinda is living with albinism. He says negative attitudes towards people with disabilities are more likely to improve eventually if there are more opportunities for them in all sectors of the economy. He adds that for those living with albinism, government needs to avail what they require on a day-to-day basis at clinics and hospitals, rather than relying on donors.
Nyakupinda says, “We might be regarded as people who are not in serious need but when you look at sunscreen lotions or school fees those are life-changing issues that need to be addressed in our favour. If it means that we could get lotions for free at clinics this would help improve our livelihoods and we would really appreciate that.”
Simba says positive attitudes can be shaped from an early age and as Zimbabwe commemorates 35 years of independence, local people should make a commitment to encourage more interaction between children with and without impairments.