Tendai Rupapa Senior Reporter
People living with disabilities have come out in full support of empowerment initiatives being rolled out by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa to unlock their potential and ensure they lead better lives while contributing meaningfully to the country’s economic development.
This is contrary to the current state of affairs where some people with disabilities live as beggars. The Angel of Hope Foundation’s patron wants to change that perception.
The foundation is the First Lady’s empowerment vehicle.
She has partnered various organisations to economically empower disabled persons by imparting pertinent skills, including financial literacy and how to fend for themselves and their children.
Yesterday, Amai Mnangagwa convened an interface with disabled persons who shared their experiences.
Cde Joshua Malinga, the special advisor in the Office of the President and Cabinet on disability issues, came out in full support of the programme, saying most challenges faced by disabled persons were not made by God, but by society.
“Disability is not the condition of my body,” said Cde Malinga. “I have no problem with my body, nzou hairemerwe nenyanga dzayo. Disability is the way I am treated by society. Society thinks we can’t be like any other people.
“They think we can’t have normal lives or even families. Our legs are not an issue, but the way society looks at us disempowers us. Disability does not prevent anyone from realising their goal. We want to thank the First Lady for giving hope to people with disabilities.”
Mr Givemore Mututsi, a survivor of a 1979 landmine blast, praised Amai Mnangagwa, saying such an interface was the first of its kind.
He quoted Isaiah 6 verse 8 and said the First Lady was God-sent, hence her interventions to assist those in need.
“Disability does not mean inability,” Mr Mututsi. “We are able to do things like any other people. However, if you visit a bank you can’t even get a loan because of lack of collateral. Amai has come with a noble initiative to impart us with financial knowledge and giving us ideas on how to start projects.
“Vakaremera tinoonekwa sevanhu vasina tariro, but Amai is giving us hope. We are happy Amai has come to be with us and to speak to us. Since 1980, this is the first of its kind, a First Lady interacting with us. We are grateful and we will treasure this. She has come to empower us, to open doors for us.”
Kudzaishe Kusekwa (17), who is physically impaired, said she did a sewing course and appealed for machines to realise her dream of establishing a tailoring business.
She was grateful that the First Lady came to her rescue through the Women’s Bank, which is among organisations working with Amai Mnangagwa in assisting vulnerable groups.
The bank’s chief executive officer, Dr Mandas Marikanda, took Kudzaishe and other participants through the process of opening an account and explained how the financial institution assists through projects.
“As Women’s Bank we are saying at your homesteads use your small fields productively,” she said. “Even the First Lady is growing vegetables behind her offices, utilising a small garden and dries them to help those in need.
“In Rusape, vulnerable groups with our assistance, are now in castor bean farming. Nothing is impossible whenever there is a will. Those into tailoring please come through and we will give you sewing machines.”
Addressing the interface, Amai Mnangagwa spelt the need for people to come together to open doors of economic empowerment for persons with disabilities.
She said according to the United Nations (UN), about 15 percent of the world’s population comprised persons with disabilities.
“If we take the same measure, we can estimate that about 15 percent of the population of Zimbabwe is made up of persons with disabilities, that is, about 2 250 000 people,” said the First Lady.
“If we further reflect, we can actually say that more than 2 250 000 people are affected because disability does not only affect the individual with the bodily impairment, but the lives of his or her family members are also affected.
“It is, therefore, not surprising that the world health survey data shows that households with persons with at least one family member with disability often have fewer assets and lower levels of income.
“That is so, because whilst for example, the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and some of the SDGs clearly state that persons with disabilities have a right to work and to establish their own self-help economic projects, the reality is that persons with disabilities are commonly marginalised in most spheres of life, including unemployment and economic empowerment programmes.”
The mother of the nation said it was generally difficult for persons with disabilities to either enter the formal labour market or to be included in economic empowerment programmes.
The reasons for such a scenario, she said, were many and included facts that most people still held fallacious beliefs that disability meant that a person was not capable of doing anything, yet the reverse may be true.
“Angel of Hope Foundation, therefore, seeks to complement Government efforts by forging partnerships that seek to enhance the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities so that just like everyone else, they can be able to live independent lives and not to just passively wait to receive donations,” said the First Lady.
“We are, therefore, gathered here today, as we together explore opportunities that may be available to persons with disabilities through the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank, and beyond.
“The reality is that whilst a vision is meant to last for some time, it is not cast in iron and stone. A vision is, therefore, dynamic and it can be altered, as we pay attention to circumstances in the forever changing world, so that we attend to the needs and concerns of all vulnerable people, regardless of their gender affiliation.
“That is why today you see that again we have also invited men with disabilities to this event, so that the men can also partake in the financial literacy skills that are being offered by the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank, as well as enter the doors of economic empowerment opportunities that we are together opening today.
“In any case, poverty knows no boundaries and as articulated by the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, we can only say we have transformed the world when we have left no one behind. We, therefore, all have to strive to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities of all gender affiliations, in all economic empowerment programmes.”
A reflection on the basic cause of poverty among persons with disabilities, she said, would note that they were generally left out of most social and economic programmes.
“The strong focus of international development targets on poverty reduction is positive, but it may also have its own dangers if we just focus on those who are easier to bring out of poverty, without making an effort to reach those who are furthest behind first,” she said.
“Persons with disabilities are excluded from all facets of life, including economic empowerment programmes, to the extent that it is not easy to find current reliable statistics on disability, let alone data that shows the extent of poverty among persons with disabilities.
“Nonetheless, the scanty research that has been undertaken on disability in Zimbabwe reveals that persons with disabilities are among the poorest of the poor.”
The First Lady called for collaboration in efforts to create and strengthen economic empowerment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
“If we work in silos, we will not accomplish much, but if we work in unity, including with persons with disabilities themselves, we will go far,” she said.
Amai Mnangagwa donated foodstuffs and toiletries to the gathering.
Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Deputy Minister, Jennipher Mhlanga, thanked the First Lady for her “relentless efforts and personal interest in supporting initiatives targeting disabled persons”.
Unesco regional director for Southern Africa, Professor Hubert Gijzen, said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits to “leave no one behind” towards a peaceful and prosperous world where dignity of an individual person and equality among all was applied as a fundamental principle.
“The commitment to leave no one behind won’t be achieved if we do not ensure the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society,” he said.
Minister of State for Harare Metropolitan Province, Oliver Chidau, also attended the occasion.