Community & Engagement

Persons with disabilities in Gokwe tell their stories

Perseverance Javangwe

Persons with disabilities in Gokwe are facing significant barriers including disturbing discrimination, and are often excluded from accessing and receiving everyday healthcare services.

Personal stories raise awareness and encourage action by showcasing firsthand experiences. Community Voices Zimbabwe (CVZ) engaged in a dialogue with persons with disabilities in ward 5 Mapfungautsi area in Gokwe to raise awareness about the significant barriers that persons with disabilities experience in the community, gathering information on how society views them and treat them as well as issues they encounter during a health emergency, and humanitarian crisis.

Speaking during the dialogue persons with disabilities expressed concern on how the community views them.

“Society views us wrongly. As for me, I have never been married, so people say I am being used as the goblin in the family because I am not married, and I do not go to work. I am always at home so they claim that I am the family goblin that is why ‘she is disabled because she is being used by her family’. This is disheartening, to think that am I a goblin I fail to understand what they are trying to implicate.

“…those are the rumors being spread around. I have never been married. I was injured in the fire, and that is how I got in this condition. So rumors being spread around say that I have been made the goblin of our family, but that is not the case. I just accepted who I am, and told myself that it is God’s will, and up to now I just tell myself that God had a reason,” said a lady who refused identification.

Some of the utterances made by society against persons with disabilities result in a lot of confrontations and insults in the community. According to Agnes Kamweko at one time she had to confront people who were gossiping ill statements against her child.

“I overheard some people talking about my child who is in form one and is disabled. They were asking where I got a child with disability form while accusing our family of bewitching my child. They were saying that is the reason I have a brother who is a lawyer and has several houses which they claim came as a result of bewitching my own child. So I had to confront them on why they claimed it was a result of witchcraft because personally I have never been involved in anything to do with witchcraft. Furthermore, no one from our family was involved in witchcraft, this child came from God, and he has been like this since he was born.

Community Engagement meeting at Mapfungautsi in Gokwe: Picture by Perseverance Javangwe

During the dialogue, it was revealed that in Gokwe some people blame parents of persons with disabilities accusing them of bewitching their own children so that they can produce more harvest from their farms.

“When you have a child like mine, people will say that you are involved in some witchcraft. They say it does not just happen unless a family is involved in witchcraft. Even my own relatives are saying that I practice witchcraft, and even those on the husband’s side accuse me of witchcraft. But I know fully well that I have never been engaged in any form of witchcraft, and have never visited a traditional healer before. Some even state that I bewitched my own child so that we can get a lot from our harvest at the fields. Surprisingly we have not received good harvests in the last decade or so,” said Sarudzai Maendese.

Such rumors faced by persons with disabilities restrict them from participating in society on an equal basis with others every day. They are commonly denied their rights to be included in the general school system and workplace, to live independently in the community, to participate in sports, and cultural activities, to enjoy social protection, to access justice, to choose medical treatment, and even more so to enter freely into legal commitments such as buying, and selling of properties. Furthermore, persons with disabilities in Gokwe are considered backward in terms of technology.

“When you have an albino child people will say albinism does not just occur unless if the parents are involved in witchcraft.

“…as persons with disabilities in Gokwe we are depicted as being backward, and that we know nothing about technology. Even if we hold our phones people ask whether we even know how to operate them. People look down upon us as if we have no knowledge whatsoever,” said a lady identified as Masibanda.

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the equal dignity, and worth of everyone, “without distinction of any kind such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The prohibition on discrimination enshrined in that Article has allowed the creation of other treaties, declarations, and conventions that spell out the human rights of protected groups not specifically listed. These include people with disabilities with whom the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was drafted and later adopted in 2006.

It is against this background that social commentator, Romeo Taderera suggested that there is a need to explicitly mention disability in Article 2.

“…there is a need for disability to be more explicitly listed in Article 2 because oftentimes as persons with disabilities, we are othered or not in the definition of diversity nor categorized. It is just ‘other’,” he said.

Furthermore, access to information as enshrined in Section 62 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, and the Freedom of Information Act (2020) which provides the framework for access to information is critical for persons with disabilities in order to shape their trajectory. Speaking in an interview with this reporter Primrose Nyangoni who is the Midlands Coordinator, and Board Secretary for the Association of Disabled, and Elderly Persons in Zimbabwe said that there is a need to provide persons with disabilities access to information in ways they can understand.

“…firstly there is a need for more awareness campaigns for persons with disabilities so that they know their rights, for instance, every human being in the country has a democratic right to information. But access to information for persons with disabilities is limited, for example, a person with hearing impairment, or a person with visual impairment cannot understand some of the programs aired on radio or on television. Thanks to ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation) when they broadcast news there will be sign language that caters to the people who cannot understand the words being conveyed. Access to information is a great deal. When covid-19 was announced so many people were quick to understand it, and even the vaccines, but for persons with disabilities it was different, they were left behind, yet they are the most vulnerable.

“…there is a need for the media to assist in terms of awareness programs educating persons with disabilities as what YA-FM here in Mberengwa is doing through the ‘Yes we can program”, in Masvingo I understand Hevoi through ‘sengai vose’  and organisations such as Community Voices Zimbabwe who seek to understand how persons with disabilities are navigating life. So we need the media to assist us in providing information to persons with disabilities. Without access to information discrimination will continue because persons with disabilities do not know their rights,” she said.

The full inclusion of people with disabilities, of all ages, requires ensuring the necessary support. And care systems to live independently in society. They are also essential for the full, and meaningful participation of people with disabilities in society with equal choice, and a life in dignity, autonomy, and independence as recognized by the Convention.

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