Zimbabwe is a signatory to United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Disabled people, where it pledged its commitment to undertake and fulfill various obligations intended to uplift and improve the conditions of people living with disabilities in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwean government signed the document in September 2013, this meant the government would ‘promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and promote respect for their inherent dignity.’
Among the disabled community in the country, fading embers of hope were reignited at the time. To the disabled community, it seemed the Government had finally seen the light by committing to a progressive move that would significantly improve their quality of life. Implementation of inclusivity of people with disabilities in every aspect of life was the vehicle that would change the narrative for people with disabilities.
4 years later the ratified document gathers dust somewhere in the government offices yet nothing has been done to better te lives of people with disabilities.
Bhekithemba Mlauzi is an attorney at the Lawyers with Disabilities Association Zimbabwe Trust, he says the process being taken to achieve full implementation of the convention is “painstakingly slow” citing that something concrete should have been on the ground by now.
He adds,“On the legal front, most lawyers have no clue about disability rights and issues, they consider them to be social science issues than law issues…People with Disabilities such as those with visual and hearing impairments are somehow at times denied access to justice from initial investigation of cases up to the highest court as there is a communication breakdown between these officials and people with such impairments as Justice delivery officials are not trained in disability etiquette and culture”.
The reality is disabled people in Zimbabwe continue to grapple in the face of excessive challenges that the government is yet to address but has committed to.
Many members of the disabled community cannot and are not afforded access vital amenities such as quality education, healthcare and are often discriminated against in the employment and economic sectors forcing them to turn to doing menial jobs, venturing into vending and begging in order to make a living.
Students with visual and hearing impairments are forced to enroll at special schools just to acquire the basic education, as schools in their communities are not resourced to offer lessons to them, most of them do not go beyond grade seven as their parents and guardians cannot afford fees charged at these special schools which are significantly higher than those charged in other ‘normal’ schools.
Agnes Chindimba, a Master’s Degree Student with a local university who has a hearing impairment says, “ on the education front nothing much has been done to put us on par with our peers, especially considering that a new curriculum is being implemented yet the Sign Language syllabi is not yet there”
“Despite it being one of the sixteen official languages recognized by our constitution, very few people both in the public and private sector are able to communicate using it, this severely dents the quality of services we get in education, health and justice ”, she adds.
Patrick Zumbo , the Public relations Officer in the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education said, “As a Ministry it’s our policy to ensure that no child, including those with disabilities, are denied their right to education, to this end we deliberately created a special needs education department that for sees and spearheads different policies aimed at improving the quality of education delivered to people with disabilities an indication that shows the Ministry’s commitment to providing quality education to students with various forms of impairments”.
“All I can say is its work in progress, we cannot achieve everything in a single day, but it is our aim to see that every school has the adequate material and human resources to make our inclusive education policy a success”, he added.
The few fortunate disabled that complete their Ordinary and Advanced levels have a great challenge finding a tertiary institution that has an on-campus Disability Resource Centres that cater for students with such impairments.
Some key infrastructure, both government and private owned, are still inaccessible to people with some impairments, for example, Harare City’s townhouse is inaccessible to wheelchair users, making service provided within the Townhouse out of reach to them.
The public transport system has also been a nightmare for people with disabilities, particularly those that use wheelchairs, often times commuter omnibus operators are reluctant to take them on board, as their wheelchairs are regarded as excess baggage which is often put in the space between the driver’s seat and the passengers behind the seat locally known as Kadoma. In most cases when they are allowed onboard, they are made to pay a double fare as the space between usually sits another passenger mostly on peak hours.
Chindimba adds the country’s justice system is flawed, “For us people with hearing impairments, it takes long to get justice because sometimes the courts do not have Sign Language interpreters, to convey what we will be saying in courts, at times we are even asked to engage the interpreters whom we would pay and if I can’t afford them that would be the end of it”.
People with disabilities in Zimbabwe are yet to enjoy the what the government pledged to implement as their fundamental rights continue to be violated.