Discrimination of the disabled still a reality

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Tecla Musarurwa (not her real name) is in all the sense of the word a woman save for one apparent abnormality: her height is just under a metre, walks with an abnormal swagger but every other make of her body is as feminine as they come.

Her baby boy lies in a small “cradle”, a makeshift one made of cardboards besides her on the side walk along Jason Moyo Avenue in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare while she sits there in the gusty August windy weather selling counterfeit compact discs for a dollar each.

“I went to school at Danhiko Project in Masasa where I did my academics but did not get enough grades to proceed with my education but I had enough to study pattern making and design technology at the same institution.

“There was discrimination but it was minimal because most of us had an infirmity of some sort but this could never have prepared me for the horror that awaited me in industry.

“My employers told me pointblank they could not afford to waste money acquiring machines that suited me alone,” says Tecla, agony and anger showing on her face.

Danhiko is a quasi-government institution whose patron is First Lady Grace Mugabe and was established by the government in 1981 initially to cater for demobilised former liberation war fighters and later moulded along the vision of national hero and philanthropist Jairos Jiri.

The institution has churned out numerous people some prominent personalities like wheelchair basketball player Daniel Nyuke and All-Africa Games wheelchair-bound athlete Elford Moyo.

Tecla’s situation and that of many others in nowhere near these national stars but it is not isolated and the streets of Harare in particular are littered with people from the physically challenged and infirm to those with speech and hearing impairments who eke a living from selling mostly illegal counterfeit compact discs that have a ready market but the sad part of it all is that they are being used by sharks who have preyed on their infirmity or disability to rake in thousands of United States dollars every month while these poor people take home paltry sums.

“You see nobody would want to be served in a supermarket by someone walking on this wooden clutch plus even before that no employer wants to take in someone who is as slow as I am and the government does not help matters, they only talk.

“In any country the civil service is the biggest employer and Zimbabwe is no exception. Government should be leading by example by employing people with disabilities so that private companies will follow suit, but we all know they start talking about us when they want people to vote for them and want to be regarded as sensitive when in actual fact they are not,” says Petros Kabada from the eastern suburb of Mabvuku, a victim of polio which lift him with matchstick-thin legs.

The network of people who make counterfeit discs is an underground system that works like clockwork and artistes are crying foul because as soon as they record and even before they launch their work it’s already in the street.

Almost all artistes have fallen prey or victim to this network that includes among its ranks record producers and promoters across music genres.

The latest victim was Zora music star Leonard Zhakata who almost quit his music career because his producers and promoters were apparently delaying the release of his album only to realise the moment he announced he was going to launch the album it had hit the black market.

These corrupt “geniuses” realised that local council or municipal and national police would have a soft spot for the disabled and will spare them from arrest so they decided to front the poor souls and because most of these disabled people have failed to secure employment and the economic meltdown of the last 10 years have not made things any easier they do not have a choice, but to work for these ruthless sharks.

Society is not ready to accept these unfortunate members in its ranks and we are not very far from those dark days when a child born with some abnormality was killed including albinos and twins who were considered a curse.

Social commentator Walter Kasirori said: “Society needs to start being sensitive to these unfortunate members and accord them the respect they deserve.We see a lot of them in streets begging not because they want to, but because they cannot secure any other form of employment as no one seems to be willing to accommodate them.”

The question one then asks is: With this kind of abuse, what can the authorities do and where are the so-called non-governmental organisations who siphon money out of donors on a daily basis under the pretext of helping the poor and underprivileged?

So for the disabled in Zimbabwe when they cannot find a job they are abused and the cycle of discrimination follows them to the grave like the proverbial fly until our national leadership and the civil service in particular start giving these people the chance at life they deserve.