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Country analysis > Zimbabwe Last update: 2020-11-27  


The forgotten tribe: People with disabilities in Zimbabwe

Tsitsi Choruma


January 2007

SARPN acknowledges Progressio as a source of this document:
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For close to 10 years Progressio has been working with disability service organisations in order to participate in the global and national effort to improve the rights and livelihoods of people with disabilities. Progressio partner organisations in Zimbabwe have included the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association (ZPHCA), Batsirai and Jairos Jiri Association (JJA).

During this period the national development agenda has shifted towards tackling HIV and AIDS. Many international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have turned their attention to the provision of services in the HIV and AIDS sector, while the fast declining national economy also left the government with no option but to redirect funding where it was most required.

While this shift was greatly needed, it left many other social ills unattended to. Among these, the disability sector was greatly overlooked and it became almost nonexistent. Evidence of this can be found in the lack of information about disabilities in Zimbabwe, the outdated disability policies that are in place, the underfunded and largely invisible national body of people with disabilities, the dysfunctional and fragmented disability sector, and the failure to address the growing needs of people with disabilities.

Several international bodies have acknowledged the fact that progress had stalled on programmes addressing the needs of people with disabilities, especially in the developing world. This resulted in a number of initiatives designed to bring disability issues back onto the national agendas of developing countries. Examples include the creation of a department within the World Bank solely responsible for disability issues. The United Nations has also followed suit and in 1999 the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities was launched following a recommendation by the Organisation for African Unity.

Despite these initiatives, in Zimbabwe people with disabilities remain the forgotten tribe. The Zimbabwe millennium development goals only mention the inclusion of people with disabilities in relation to education. The other seven goals do not specifically address issues pertaining to people with disabilities.

Overlooking the development needs of people with disabilities or disinvesting from programmes that directly benefit them can be one of the most dramatic forms of exclusion people with disabilities can face. People with disabilities remain largely invisible in their communities, and largely overlooked in efforts by the global development community to improve the human welfare and living standards of millions of the world’s poor people. It is important that policy makers and development practitioners alike acknowledge that, with roughly 10 per cent of the world’s population living with some form of disability (WHO, 1996), disability components must be built into all development projects.

Statistics on the extent of disability in Zimbabwe are unreliable (see Section 1). However, it is common knowledge that many people living with a disability were not born with a disability but became disabled through accidents, other life threatening illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, HIV and AIDS, meningitis, polio, or arthritis, or simply as a result of old age. This reinforces the argument for programmes to be put in place to create awareness, to enable people with disabilities to become productive members of society, and to generally uphold the rights of people with disabilities to good health, education, and favourable living conditions.

In Zimbabwe, we still have a situation where a good number of disabled children do not attend school. As they get older they continue to be dependent on others, thus becoming an economic drain on their communities simply because they have been denied the opportunity to contribute.

While the government is expected to play a leading role in addressing the needs of people with disabilities, development agencies can also play a critical role as catalysts in ensuring enactment of laws and policies that are favourable and aimed at improving the general situation of people with disabilities.

This report draws on the findings of a survey conducted in 2006 by Progressio Zimbabwe in collaboration with the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH). The survey sought to collect information about the experience of people with disabilities in Zimbabwe and their views on what needs to be done to improve the situation. Drawing on the survey findings, this report aims to:

  • Raise awareness on issues currently being faced by people with disabilities in Zimbabwe.
  • Enable the Zimbabwean government, international NGOs and local service organisations to reframe their programmes and actions targeted toward people with disabilities so that they become contextual and inclusive of the needs of the different segments of society that are living with disabilities.
  • Help those in development work see the greater link of disabilities and development and also how disability today is linked to other issues such as HIV and AIDS, poverty, gender, civil society participation, and even governance.
Besides continuing to focus on awareness programmes, in order to achieve these aims it is important to consider capacity building with disability organisations on:

  • Inclusion practices in education, society and employment: in other words, mainstreaming disability.
  • Advocating for the development of a national framework on disabilities and the adoption of new policies and programmes responsive to the changing needs of people with disabilities: in short, ensuring that disability issues find their way back onto the national agenda.
  • Developing coalitions, alliances, and special projects around the development of resource centres for people with disabilities, for example libraries, continuing education centres, alternative format publications centres, and disability offices in schools and tertiary institutions.
Disability specific programmes and measures continue to be much needed in Zimbabwe, as well as fully justified from the perspective of development economics and human rights.

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