Zimbabwe recently held harmonised elections on August 23 in which Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa was elected the head of the state and government in a tightly contested election.
The election has been viewed by foreign observer missions in their preliminary reports as generally peaceful as compared to other previous elections in the country, but the election has been criticised for falling short of regional and international standards to mark it as a free, independent and credible election.
Though the 2013 constitution of Zimbabwe put into cognisance the participation of people living with disabilities in political and public life, the recent elections could not fully live to its billing in fulfilling the rights of people living with disabilities.
Section 22 of the constitution states that every institution at every level should recognise the rights of persons with disabilities and they must be treated with respect and dignity and should be assisted to achieve their maximum potential and at the same time minimise the disadvantages they suffer.
Disability is defined as any condition of the body or mind that makes it difficult for a person with that condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.
Almost everyone will temporarily or permanently experience disability at some point in their life. Disability is part of being human.
An estimated 1.3 billion people which is about 16% of the global population currently experience significant disability.
This number is increasing due in part to population ageing and an increase in the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases.
According to 2022 census in Zimbabwe, 9.2 per cent of the population lives in impairment of varying degrees.
A person’s environment has a huge effect on the experience and extent of disability. Inaccessible environments create barriers that often hinder the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in society on an equal basis with others.
Progress on improving social participation can be made by addressing these barriers and facilitating persons with disabilities in their day to day lives.
Elections though seasonal, comes and go but they have the propensity of affecting lives for a 5 year cycle and the period of 5 years is a long period and the time lost will never be reedemed and this calls for thorough assessment and implementation of policies that have large bearing on people’s lives.
Only two people, Anna Shiri and Ishmael Zhou were elected senators of the 9.2 per cent people living with disabilities in Zimbabwe in the recent election.
The ratio of representation is so low as compared to the total number of people living with disabilities.
Besides the low representation, people living with disabilities faced stigmisation during the built up to the election, during the election and post election period.
The general participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life is affected by societal stereotypes, self stigma caused by low self esteem, legal framework which is discriminatory, infrastructure which is not disable user friendly and as well as patronising approaches to issues.
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission failed to disaggregate data by disability such as during voter registration and voting processes.
Polling officers were ill equipped for different disabilities to expect on the election day.
People with disabilities such as albinism who require to be processed quickly to avoid over exposure to the sun, those with invisible disabilities such as deafness and epilepsy were disenfranchised during the elections due to lack of disaggregated data.
Moreso, people living with disabilities in Harare, Bulawayo and Manicaland were the most affected as the election process was delayed due to delays in distribution of voting material and those with disabilities were not given preferal treatment.
The absence of clear special procedures was a disservice to people living with disabilities during the elections.
There were no clear sign posts at the polling stations to direct people with disabilities to special queues. The absence of sign posts meant that persons with disabilities did not know where to get assistance.
Lack of sign language provision in national electoral process such as voter education as well as political party activities also impacted the participation of pople living with disabilities.
Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) used interpreters in some of their rallies and it was a positive to the rights of people living with disabilities.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which it ratified in 2013.
Article 29 of the CRPD specifically deals with the right of persons with disabilities to participate in political and public life, including the right to vote and be elected.
Zimbabwe fell short once again in providing a fair environment for people with disabilities to fully participate in the just ended elections.
Most of the polling stations were hardly accessible to people moving with wheelchairs or clutches and much considerations should be done so that polling stations are accessible to everyone despite the physicality of the person.
Zimbabwe have progressive policies on disability rights but is largely affected by implementation gap which makes the realisation of the rights in practice of electoral processes unachievable.