Jonas Marichi (43) has gone to attend a Copac meeting called for at the local growth point.
Since he is deaf and dumb, he had hoped that there would be a sign language interpreter at the meeting so that his views on the constitution could also be captured.
But to his disappointment, Copac had not made arrangements for his special need. He is forced to sit through the meeting as a spectator while other people — some of whom have no clue whatsoever to his deepest needs — shape his destiny.
“It shows we’re not important,” fumes Jonas three hours later at his homestead, speaking through his son. “If we were important they would have made arrangements to bring interpreters.”
Unfortunately, during the time the Copac meeting was on, his son was at school, and could not come to his father’s aid.
Jonas’ dilemma is not peculiar to him. It’s just one episode in the long, painstaking drama of how people living with disabilities have been virtually annihilated through the Copac, system, which purports to be gathering inputs from all stakeholders ahead of the drafting of the new Constitution.
Addressing the concerns raised by the disabled, Copac co-chairperson Douglas Mwonzora said: “They just need to be patient as we implement various practical arrangements to cater for their needs”.
He insisted they treated all equally, and “we really have a thematic committee focusing on disabled people”.
Although Copac has indicated that it could convene special outreach meetings for people with disabilities, the outreach meetings are likely come to an end in September.
Apart from the issue of sign language interpreters and the distance the disabled had to travel to reach the meeting venues, stakeholders said it was also important for Copac to make available the talking points in audio formats, like CDs, to enable the blind – in cases where the talking points cannot be availed in Braille – to be fully conversant with some of the topical issues, particularly those that affected them as a special interest group.
The total number of people who have attended Copac meetings in all the country’s 10 provincesso far is 474 367, while the number of “people with special needs” – a euphemism for the disabled – is pegged at 2 674, which translates to a meagre 0,60%.
Among issues of concern raised by the National Association for Societies of the Care of the Handicapped (Nascoh) was the need to have sign language interpreters at Copac meetings and holding meetings close to where the disabled lived.
In some rural outposts, people had to walk distances of 10km or more to reach the venues, mostly schools.
Nascoh had since submitted a position paper outlining their concerns to Copac.
“Copac is doing the outreach without sign language interpreters and this is inhibiting the deaf. We raised that issue with them and they said they were waiting for money to conduct special sessions for the disabled,” Nascoh director Farai Mukuta said.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that Copac now faces is that of funds after their sponsors’ withdrawal.
There are about 140 000 people with hearing impairments in Zimbabwe. Following Nascoh’s submissions to Copac, Mwonzora said they would look into the concerns.
But perhaps this a little too late, as the start of the outreach programme itself was erroneous, according to the deputy chairman of the National Disability Board, Watson Khuphe, who further accused the process of slamming its door in the face of the disabled.
“This is the beginning of a process of legalising discrimination in this country because how do you explain when people knew that we will be gathering and they choose to gather upstairs where it’s inaccessible to people like myself?” lamented Khuphe.
The executive director of the Disabled People Support Organisation, Rejoice Timire, has also said the only the disabled persons could articulate their views.
“As disabled persons we were clamouring for a new constitution that respects our rights and wishes, but to date the outreach teams have not visited our members in certain areas who are not able to travel to the gathering points,” said Timire recently.
One of Copac’s point persons, Paul Mangwana, said the major handicap was that of funding, but he expressed hope that this would be addressed.
“The major constraint has been funding for this special project of meeting with disabled persons. We certainly hope that we will get it and this will be done,” Mangwana was quoted saying.
The Women Charter stipulates that 10% of the agenda should be reserved for women with disabilities so that their views and wishes can be articulated and recognised.
But as the debate rages on, for people like Marichi, they can only stand at the sidelines and watch as others speak on their behalf.