ISSUES affecting the disabled in Zimbabwe have been relegated to society’s back burner due to a plethora of socio-economic problems that have hit the poorer members of society.
that have taken centre stage in the life of Zimbabweans to the detriment of the disabled include the prevalence of the HIV and Aids scourge, the deteriorating economic situation, political problems currently plaguing the country and the general decay of the social fabric. The government, overwhelmed by the crisis to hand, has abdicated its social responsibility to its vulnerable citizens.
The government which recently cut back on the welfare of university and college students has also scaled down the issuance of social grants to the blind, the poor and the disabled, some of whom have now been totally abandoned to fend for themselves.
Issues of governments’ abdication of their role to protect the disabled took centre stage at a recent international conference in Lilongwe, Malawi, convened to disseminate information of an international research programme conducted over the last two years.
The programme conducted in over 20 countries revealed that disabled people were not included and consulted by governments in the policy formulation process.
The findings of the programme, which was conducted by the University of East Anglia in Norwich and funded by the Overseas Development Group (ODG), were presented at the international disability conference aimed at coming up with resolutions on how to implement results of the findings.
“Governments and development agencies need to tackle the problem of policy implementation, which has meant that good policies on mainstreaming disability in development remain trapped on paper and the research findings show that there is need to turn the policies into action,” the report said.
Mark Harrison, the leader of the research team, said almost all countries surveyed throughout the world had good policies on paper but the policies were not turned into action plans.
The research also came up with resolutions on implementing disability-focused legislation, strengthening disabled people’s organisations so that they can engage international and national donors.
The report also discovered that disability organisations themselves were not including the disabled in their structures and said in most instances the disabled were not even consulted in policy formulation.
The findings say in Africa only South Africa and Uganda are among the few countries that implemented disability-focused legislation but said there was still need for improvement.
Apart from specific legislation that targets the disabled, South Africa has further legislation that includes the Preferential Procurement Act and the South African Schools Act, which cater for learners with special needs.
Zimbabwe has poor disability legislation that has seen the disabled being sidelined from leadership roles and positions.
Another crucial finding of the research programme shows that funds raised by organisations purporting to represent the disabled were not reaching the intended beneficiaries.
Speaking at the Malawi conference, Alexander Phiri, the secretary-general of Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled, said dubious organisations purporting to represent the disabled were diverting or abusing funds raised for the disabled.
“In Africa there is a tendency by some non-governmental organisations to misappropriate equipment and funds that would have been donated for use by the disabled and the disabled need to be organised to fight that scourge,” Phiri said.
He also said the disabled were being sidelined in the articulation of their issues.
“In the case of Zimbabwe, government officials are the ones who attend disability conventions at the United Nations in New York but they are not disabled and whose interests do they represent? The disabled should be allowed to travel so that they articulate their issues,” Phiri said.
Phiri said politicians should not be allowed to hijack the agenda of the disabled.
The research programme covered several countries in Africa and Asia.
Officially opening the four-day international conference, Malawi’s Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Davie Ngulinga, said lack of information on the needs of the disabled was hampering their empowerment and urged the disabled to be aggressive in utilising the data from the research findings.
“In most countries especially the least developed, data is usually in short supply because of the lack of resources for the collection of information and its analysis.
That lack of information makes it difficult for governments to plan for the disabled,” Ngulinga said.
Gladys Charowa, a researcher from Zimbabwe who also presented a paper at the same conference, told delegates that Zimbabwe had poor legislation on the disabled.
“The Disability Act was drafted in 1982 by the government but since then nothing has materialised,” Charowa said. “There has been no implementation of the policy paper after it was formulated.”
She also said infrastructure in the country was not user-friendly and said the Zimbabwean government needed to ensure that the disabled had access to all infrastructure.
Dennis Paine, a representative of the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development, who commissioned the research programme, said the world would never achieve the Millennium Development Goals until all countries had implemented socially inclusive policies.