PEOPLE living with disabilities in Bulawayo have accused the government and aid agencies operating in the country of sidelining them in the provision of social safety nets and food assistance meant to mitigate the effects of Covid-19.
The United Nations in Zimbabwe, through the World Food Programme (WFP), in May promised to expand its social assistance fund by introducing an e-voucher scheme expected to benefit over 224 000 vulnerable families in urban areas.
“The UN will expand the urban social assistance programme to reach 124 000 new beneficiaries with food. Combined with the existing caseload, the WFP anticipates reaching a total of 224 000 beneficiaries,” the UN said.
The group said their “sidelining” by the responsible authorities and agencies violates the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Zimbabwe, amid their calls for urgent redress of the shortcomings.
John Munetsi Jemwa, a visually impaired resident representing a group of PWDs in Bulawayo, said the government through the Ministry of Local Government crafted the urban distribution template together with the Ministry of Social Welfare.
“It is very sad to note that the central government through the Social Welfare ministry does not serve its purpose. Our government policies are against the most vulnerable groups in society. The Zimbabwe government has never issued disability grants for the upkeep and wellbeing of its citizens with disabilities,” he said.
Jemwa said his family of five is in serious crisis as he is the only breadwinner.
“We are five in my family, myself, visually impaired; my wife, physically disabled; and our three children. We are currently surviving on one meal a day. We used to do some vending activities but due to Covid-19 World Health Organisation health guidelines we were seriously affected,” he said.
Jemwa said they have since petitioned the Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Judith Ncube, Social Welfare Department and the WFP to seek redress but they were still waiting for a response.
The PWDs said their plight was not on the government priorities list, hence it used to give them only US$3 a month as a Covid-19 allowance at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. They added that they were also not issued with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
In a letter to the government submitted through the provincial development coordinator, the PWDs said they were disgruntled over their exclusion and lack of representation in various programmes.
They said the government was reluctant to domesticate the United Nations Charter on Rights of Disabled Persons which can address several challenges to the lives of the disabled.
“Article 11 on Situations of Risk and Humanitarian Emergencies states that State parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters,” PWDs said in the letter to government.
“According to article 11 both organisations and governments must render assistance to see that the lives of disabled persons are protected. We are currently in a situation of humanitarian crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe. Disabled persons in developing countries like Zimbabwe go through an economic crisis and are at great risk as the central government has no capacity to issue disability grants to support this most vulnerable group leaving their lives under charity care.”
The PWDs said the current state of affairs has left most of them living from hand-outs. They said according Article 11, the World Food Programme is supposed to always ensure that the assistance they give out, street beggars with disabilities are considered without restrictions.
A visually impaired Cowdray Park resident Adonia Dube said he did not get the WFP voucher and is struggling to survive through street begging.
“I have a family of five including me and my wife. We are both visually impaired with one child also having the same impairment,” Dube said.
“I am not benefitting from the WFP voucher programme and I wonder who among people with disability are benefitting when we the most disadvantaged are not getting the vouchers. I survive through begging on the street at Bulawayo centre and life is very difficult for me and my family.”
He appealed to the authorities to assist him and most of the people with disabilities who are not benefiting from the programme to be included.
Minister Ncube could neither confirm nor deny receiving the petition from the PWDs but only said the administration of Covid-19 welfare programmes was overseen by the Social Welfare Department and WFP.
“Data capturing is administered by Social Welfare and WFP, and if one is benefitting from one source he /she cannot be registered with another organisation,” she said.
Ncube, however, advised the PWDs to visit her office so that she understood their concerns.
WFP field officer based in Harare Roseline Magarira confirmed receiving calls from people who said they were representing PWDs in Bulawayo and she advised them to visit the Bulawayo offices to understand what the organisation is doing.
“Yes I received a call from people who said they represent people with disabilities from Bulawayo, and I advised them that they should visit the Bulawayo offices to get all the information they want about our programmes,” she said.
The PWDs said they visited WFP offices in Bulawayo several times and failed to get any assistance that is why they ended up calling Magarira in Harare.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Permanent secretary Simon Masanga said those who are not receiving assistance must go and register with their district Social Welfare offices, adding that the process had been stalled by the suspension of the mobile money transfers by the government.
“They must go and register with their district offices, the registration had been stalled by the suspension of mobile money transfers but now this has ended and there are people on the ground who are registering beneficiaries,” Masanga said.