Peter Matika, Senior Reporter
SENATOR representing people with disabilities in Zimbabwe, Cde Watson Khupe has challenged the Government to amend the Constitution, so that it can address a number of challenges faced by people living with disabilities.
In an interview, Sen Khupe also called on the Government to introduce a “Command Disability Fund” that will be accessible to people living with disabilities so that they take to various self-help projects.
“What he (President Emmerson Mnangagwa) said in his inaugural speech at the National Sports Stadium was not very different from what he promised us. He said there was a need to improve certain areas and see that the disabled were included but some of the things would need a constitutional amendment.
“So as a Senator representing people living with disabilities, I will push for the amendment of the Constitution of Zimbabwe so that there is more inclusion of disability issues than there is at the moment. The philosophical foundation of disabled people’s organisations internationally or regionally is well represented.
So we deal with issues that have been cleared at the National Assembly because we have no representation there but I as the Senator for the disabled I hope there will not really be an impediment on my part because I will connect with other colleagues who are in the National Assembly,” said Sen Khupe.
He said he had no doubt that President Mnangagwa would deliver to the people of Zimbabwe and that the country would stand by him and the Government.
“There are people who understand our situation and as people living with disabilities, we hope that after the amendment of the Constitution we will be able to also raise those things in Parliament ourselves, not through proxy. One of the sticking points, one of the painful things we face as disabled people in this country is that we don’t have a national disability policy.
There have been drafts and drafts for the past 15 years or 20 years but nothing has been approved. We are told the Cabinet has actually accepted it (draft policy) but after some time we are told no, it was finally rejected it because it was found not in order, come again with another draft.
We continue doing that so we find it very unfortunate that after 38 years a country like Zimbabwe with a high literacy rate, a people who are proud of being their own liberators but when it comes to the disabled they are still lagging compared to other countries in the region,” said Sen Khupe.
He said the country was lagging behind in terms of social development because of the stigma surrounding people with disabilities.
“My appeal to them especially in this new dispensation is that they work hard with us so that when they leave this world for another planet they are proud of what they did for Zimbabwe. Not for only a section of Zimbabwe, I don’t think it is right to say we fought for the country while the other part of the country is still lagging behind. If you ask anyone who went to war whether Zanla or Zipra, they will tell you that there was no one who was so interested in socialising with the disabled like war vets.
“The one thing that freedom fighters wanted when they got to a place when they saw a disabled person was to find out what the cause was of their disability. Once it was cleared that it was something natural whether one was bitten by a snake or anything, they could feel that the segregation experienced by the disabled people from their fellow community members who were blacks was the same segregation that they were experiencing from whites and wanted to get rid of.
They recognised that the disabled were facing a double discrimination; first being discriminated overall as black people and as disabled people by the fellow black people. So there was a further discrimination, which I think up to now it has not been completely removed and it can only happen if we have a constitution which I want to say not cock-eyed so our constitution is not straight when it comes to disability issues,” said Sen Khupe.
He said he would also advocate for the inclusion of disabled persons in Government boards and institutions.
“I think there should be some bit of clarity on the constitution; we have people in Government boards, on all the boards you rarely find disabled people and it doesn’t mean that they are not qualified but I think it’s the attitude and the system does not recognise the disabled. So we are saying the constitution should actually state that part.
It doesn’t have to depend on the type of the person to say that today there is someone who understands. The appointment of people into corporations, boards and parastatals on disability grounds should not be based on the character of the person who is in charge.
“There should be a policy and that policy should also be derived from a constitution which is recognising disability fully, not through cock-eyed policies and we are hopeful with the leadership of his Excellency ED Mnangagwa it will be very possible.
I say so because even in the 90s in the constitutional commission he was Minister of Justice we would personally go and to him to talk about our issues. He had also assisted in improving the Constitution to suit the needs of the disabled even though it was a small achievement,” said Sen Khupe.
He said they would extensively work with various organisations to ensure that disabled people’s plights are fully heard.
“The other key point I have is with regards to the business sector. We wish that banks, when giving out a loan to a person with a disability there should be an extra facility to cater for them.
I think there should be deliberate affirmative action. So put it in strong terms we are really asking for a command disability mainstreaming. Isn’t there is command agriculture, which achieved a lot of things.
If we are serious and we implement command disability mainstreaming programmes especially on certain thematic areas like taking into consideration disabled children whose parents are really struggling because some are at home and others in rural areas and they are not able to do their daily chores because they have to attend to their disabled children,” said Sen Khupe.