The National Disability Expo ended on a high note as the President of Zimbabwe, Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa pledged that government, through cabinet, shall begin the process to set aside special disability funds to finance projects that shall improve the livelihoods of People with Disabilities across the nation.
The 9th Edition of the Disability Expo running under the theme: “Disability mainstreaming for a prosperous and empowered society which leaves no one behind” was for the first time graced by President ED Mnangagwa making it an auspicious event where the Excellency’s pledge to leave no one behind in implementing inclusive development was fulfilled.
President Mnangagwa expressed his interest in the socio-economic welfare of PWDs while delivering his speech during the official opening of the 3 day Disability Expo what took place at the Gweru Sports Club from 11-13 October 2021.
“As I was moving around the exhibition stands, I noticed the talent and skills PWDs were showcasing through their unique crafts and farming produce. The project outputs are equally of good quality considering they were produced by people with various types of disabilities which I never considered possible. When cabinet meets next, issues on the agenda shall include planning to set aside a special disability fund to finance PWDs projects,” he said.
Cde ED Mnangagwa added that through the commitment government made in developmental and economic blueprints to achieve Vision 2030, PWDs should get their fair share of resources such as land and homes. The President proposed that PWDs be allocated a percentage of houses from government’s national housing programme as he made reference to a current Musha-Muzi housing programme that will facilitate the sustainable financing and development of decent and affordable accommodation for lowest earning members of society.
The President, addressing some of the concerns which PWDs were raising during the officiation ceremony, said there is need to improve PWDs access to assistive devices as a measure to lessen the ever existing barriers they face as he even commended the passion his special advisor has in advocating for PWDs rights and ensuring barriers are nonexistent in disability issues.
“The Ministry of Labor and Social Services should have funds at its disposal to have all forms of assistive devices available for PWDs so as to allow them effective mobility and communication in their day to day living. I admire Malinga’s passion in advocating for disability issues and he will sternly follow up on everything as he is a man who demands action and results,” he said.
Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Larry Mavhima hammered on the issue of ever increasing barriers that hinder the full realization of the rights of PWDs including inaccessible government buildings.
“I make a request to government to begin the process of renovating all government buildings to become accessible to PWDs. Most particularly. I would want my office to be the most disability-friendly office to allow PWDs to have access to it,” said Mavhima.
Special Advisor to the President on National Disability issues, Dr Joshua Malinga applauded the Minister of State on his efforts in accommodating the needs of PWDs.
“Unlike some ministers, Mavhima has always been open to concerns of PWDs. However, there are times you would wonder if some ministers are equally involved in worsening the barriers or even creating them for PWDs,” said Dr Malinga.
Relating to the issue on the ever increasing barriers, Chairperson of the National Disability Expo’s steering committee, Tafadzwa Matope handed over a braille document for the President to read as he metaphorically expressed the magnitude of communication barriers PWDs face on a daily basis.
“Some of the communication challenges among PWDs and society increase due to poor implementation of languages most particularly sign language as always been advocated for by the deaf community. For the visually impaired who constitute nearly +/-1.3million of the Zimbabwean population, braille is of great importance but it is not a common format and that needs to be addressed.”
“Many of these barriers including inaccessible infrastructures present limited employment opportunities for PWDs. This is the reason why disability and poverty are interrelated. The removal of such barriers would demonstrate commitment to leaving no one behind in sustainable development,” Matope emphasized.
Gweru-based disability activist, Matthew Phiri, speaking on the sidelines of the event questioned if the National Disability Policy is enough public policy to promote the rights of PWDs as he advocates for the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
“Our government needs to begin walking the talk as has been experienced during the Expo through aligning all public policy to promote disability inclusion. The convention follows decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to PWDs it takes to a new height the movement from viewing PWDs as ‘objects’ of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing them as ‘subjects’ capable of claiming their rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society,” he said.
As the officiation ceremony unfolded, the President donated laptops, food hampers and agriculture hampers to many outstanding disability organizations and stakeholders championing disability issues within the sector.
Nozipho Rutsate is a community development journalist and communications expert currently working with the Quadriplegic and Paraplegic Association of Zimbabwe. She writes in her personal capacity.