“It is in the struggle that we decide who it is we are to be”, LeAura Alderson.
Tsepang T. Nare writes
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) reaffirms the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness of all Hunan Rights and fundamental freedoms and the need for Persons with disabilities (PWDs) to be guaranteed their full enjoyment without discrimination.
The fight for recognition in the Zimbabwean history dates back to early 70s when focus was centered on attaining formal education as compared to simply gaining vocational skills offered at Jairos Jiri Association.
Astute disability stalwarts like Alexandra Phiri at the time realised their capabilities and were determined to chase their dreams to where destiny would lead them.
As years went by, the struggle took a different turn as the quest was now to advance community integration of people with disabilities as compared to sticking to the institutionalisation approach.
After 1981 following the Disabled People International Conference attended by the late Hon Joshua Malinga, the struggle further escalated to new dimensions where the welfarist mentality was discarded paving way for the adoption of the socialist model by calling for pro disability legislation so as to strengthen the involvement and meaningful participation of PWDs in government programmes with emphasis on inclusion in rehabilitation service planning.
This saw the promulgation of the Disabled Persons Act [ Chapter 17: 01 ] of 1992.
A couple of years later, in 2001 the National Disability Board was established.
21 years later, a new Constitution was adopted ushering PWDs into a transformational era as this resulted in the creation of two Senatorial seats filled by means of an election through the electoral college system.
Though PWDs are not where they want to be as the aspirations of the founding fathers have not been fully realised, they unceasingly have continued to aim higher only to land on a tree top.
Every breakthrough has in turn come with its fair share of challenges such as the evolution of the Disability capture.
At the height of Zimbabwe’s protracted war of liberation it is when the agenda was set by the Council of the Welfare of the Disabled presently known as the National Council of Disabled Persons in Zimbabwe (NCDPZ), were leaders produced a policy centered on having disability legislature in place which included the adoption of community based rehabilitation.
Only in 1992, government took a bold move to advance the cause of persons with disabilities as that in essence defined their struggle.
The enactment of the ACT, can be championed as it specifically addressed the issue of rights by clearly distinguishing the rights of PWDS in areas to do with education, employment, transportation as well as access to public spaces.
It further promoted the participation of the constituency in areas to do with social, economic and cultural life, thus taking a bold stance to make sure they enjoy their rights by having a piece of legislature that enforces compliance towards an endeavour to eliminate any form of discrimination.
Through well coordinated mechanisms coupled with unrelenting efforts, the call to have persons with disabilities play an active role in government programmes starting from the planning stage grew louder leading to an unprecedented and land mark decision to put in place the National Disability Board.
This would result in strengthened collaboration between government and persons with disabilities as well as accelerated efforts to ensure there is inclusion and meaningful participation for purposes of growth and development.
Key amongst the functions of the board are prescribed under the Disabled Persons Act, Section 7 which includes, preventing discrimination resulting from or arising out of their disability, to coordinate services provided in Zimbabwe for the welfare and rehabilitation of disabled persons, generally to improve the social and economic status and condition of disabled persons and to advance their interests.
Furthermore, the 7th Schedule of the Electoral Act ( Chapter 2:13) gives more power to the board in terms of its direct involvement in the planning of elections in order to elect two senatorial representatives.
Section 3 of the Disabled Persons Act provides for the creation of the office of the Director.
Still pursuing to the agenda of leaving no one behind and taking decisive actions towards enhancing and harnessing the implementation of government policies and programmes for persons with disabilities, a director to occupy this office was appointed after more than 2 decades since the law came into effect.
Dr Christine Peta, the director for disability affairs is responsible to formulate proposals as a way of addressing issues noted by the board, to coordinate activities of institutions, associations and organisations concerned with the welfare and rehabilitation of disabled persons as well as performing in accordance to directions or instructions from the Minister or board.
It is therefore quite nerve wrecking to note that upon attaining significant strides in the fight towards the promotion, recognition and advancement of disability rights, such gains are on the brink of being reversed as a result of ‘Disability Capture’.
A phenomenon where persons with disabilities are excluded or under-represented from decision making and instead, organisations are put in place to represent the interest of such a constituency are co-opted by other powerful interests.
This unfolds at the backdrop of the recently held Senatorial elections coupled with a continued systematic and scathing discrimination targeted at visually impaired persons and activists.
In an article published on Friday 3rd of November 2023 by spyglass titled, “Visually Impaired Government Official in Electoral Fraud Storm” on a wordpress blog https://spyglassnewsnet.wordpress.com/2023/11/02/visually-impaired-gvt-official-in-electoral-fraud-storm/, Shamiso Kabayahwaro, an officer with visual impairment in the department for disability affairs is implicated in electoral fraud.
The allegations are that she forged delegate nomination forms after she was assigned by the Director for disability affairs to receive and record these forms from organisations and associations seconding delegates.
That instantly poses as a serious breach of the electoral act which places the National Disability Board together with Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) at the centre of planning and coordinating elections as prescribed under the 7th schedule in subsection 2(1).
As such the planning towards the conduct of elections is the prerogative of ZEC and the board but the secretariat in the disability affairs department as led by Director Christine Peta usurped that power.
This is further evidenced by the file of nomination forms for delegates brought to the venue where elections were to be conducted by the Director for disability affairs.
This was not done at the request of the board nor was the participation of the board sought.
The director openly declared that she undertook the nomination process and it became clear that the National Disability Board had been relegated.
Edmos Mtethwa the Chief Director for Social Services, as the article alleges was suspended for protecting Shamiso Kayabahwaro, although we have it on good record that the reason for Mtethwa’s suspension was communicated to him as hatred for his subordinate.
This begs the question, who is this mighty Dr Peta and where does she derive her power?
Shamiso and Dr Mtethwa are alleged to have connived to advantage Senator Ishumael Zhou who is visually impaired like them.
These allegations are as far from the truth as black is from white because Shamiso Kabayahwaro was nowhere near the venue where elections took place.
Instead Dr Peta was at the venue where she was overstepping her bounds telling ZEC who should and should not be accredited to participate in the Senatorial elections.
Dr Peta had actually taken over all issues pertaining to elections more than three weeks prior to election day.
4 days before the actual election, Dr Peta through a WhatsApp group called “PWDs and Elections” sent a list of organisations said to have made errors in submitting names of delegates.
According to that WhatsApp message, these organisations were given an opportunity to rectify their errors and were to send corrected nomination forms to her email address without the need to copy any one which means she had taken full control of the process and should therefore bear full responsibility.
This again violated subsection 3(1) which clearly stipulates that the National Disability Board Chairperson, the vice Chairperson or any assigned board member together with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) jointly scrutinise the provisional list of Electoral College Delegates to delete those who do not meet requirements such as being a registered voter, being a person with a disability and submitting nomination forms with an equal number of male and female delegates.
In this case, according to the Director, the deadline to submit given by ZEC was Wednesday the 23rd of August yet names and corrections were already being made, with Dr Peta taking over a process delegated to the National Disability Board at law.
The article erroneously and maliciously singles out activists with myself included for running a ruthless campaign duped “PETA MUST FALL”.
The agenda of ‘disability capture’ is to create a defeaning silence where persons with disabilities cannot have a say on issues that matter.
The struggle for self determination has always taken centre stage in the disability movement.
Disability capture is against this and the merchants of disability capture always seek to wedge a rift between activists and other persons with disabilities.
As activists we have made loud calls for Dr Peta to resolve an issue pertaining to reimbursement allowance for Electoral College Delegates which is prescribed at law under subsection 6 of the 7th schedule of the Electoral Act.
These calls have been purposefully misinterpreted by the merchants of disability capture to equate to a ruthless campaign.
The call for the Director to act has been necessitated by the fact that each time ZEC is engaged, they have timeously indicated that they have not received a list of delegates to receive reimbursements.
The desire to thwart any voice of reason is also triggered by the unending quest to understand why a group of people have to continue to suffer in the hands of a government official whose office should be to further the interests of persons with disabilities.
Disability movement is a struggle of resiliency for the resilient.
It is a fight against unjust policies and unfair practises to pursue a cause where we live in a society where we operate at an equal level like others enabling us to unleash our greatest potential and charter the disability rights movement to unsinkable heights.
If ever there is anything that must fall is ‘disability capture’.
Tsepang T. Nare, is a Disability Rights Advocate and writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and the views shared are not in any way the position of the publisher.