The Disability Observer 2019 Issue Number 1

The Disability Observer 2019 Issue Number 1 covers issues regarding the disabled community and their rights.

The untold story: Deaf vendors in Harare – By Isaacs Mwale

With the collapse of the formal sector in Zimbabwe, the informal sector has become the “fall-back” source of income for millions of unemployed Zimbabweans. The BBC reported that as of 2019 the unemployment rate has reached over 90% in Zimbabwe1, making it one of the highest in the world. This tough economic environment has hit the average Zimbabwean hard with many being forced into trading of goods and basic commodities on the streets of Harare in order to make a living.

Amongst those vendors trading in the CBD is a significantly large group of Deaf people who have been operating as vendors for over a decade. As one walks around the CBD in Harare these vendors can be spotted on various street corners, selling “airtime juice cards” and other various basic commodities.

In the last quarter of 2018, the Harare Council banned vendors from operating in undesignated areas in the CBD in an effort to clean up the city streets over concerns of a Cholera outbreak. Harare was the epicenter of that Cholera outbreak that affected over 4000 citizens.2 The city council with the support of the Zimbabwe Republic Police swiftly moved in to enforce the ban and clashes between the vendors and police have been ongoing since.

Caught in the middle of this “vending war” are the dozens of Deaf vendors who in many instances get caught and rounded up by the police because they do not hear the police coming. What then transpires after they are caught is very disturbing due to the fact that the Police services cannot communicate with the Deaf vendors in Sign Language. .

Because of this language barrier, the Constitutional Rights of the Deaf vendors are grossly violated as they are never informed of their rights and the reason for their detention in violation of Section 50(1)(a) of the Constitution.

The rights abuse does not end there as it continues at the Central Police Station where the Deaf vendors are not attended to because there is no officer at the station who has been trained to communicate in Sign Language. This results in the Deaf vendors being held at the Station for many hours without being informed of the procedures that have to be followed for them to be freed and reclaim their confiscated goods.

Every citizen of the country must abide by the rule of law and yes, it is now illegal to be trading in undesignated locations. However, basic human rights that are entrenched in the Constitution need to be observed and respected by the Police Services. As the new reforms are being made in the Zimbabwean Republic Police, measures must be taken for the Police officers to be taught basic Sign Language to remedy this violation of human rights and to ensure that justice is achieved and the abuse of Deaf vendors is remedied.

Making a change through law : Abraham Mateta By Tino

Determined to make a change, Abraham Mateta has proven that being blind is not an obstacle but an opportunity to prove that nothing is impossible.
Abraham Mateta was born in Hurungwe District and attended his primary education in Kadoma at Jairos Jiri School for the blind and John Tallach Secondary School in Bulawayo. He proceeded to the University of Zimbabwe where he graduated with a law degree and did his master’s degree in International and European Law at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom.

Now a well-established lawyer and disability rights activist, Abraham has always from an early age, been argumentative and always had a desire to question the order of things. His intelligence made him have access to mainstream learning and exposed him to what was known then as integrated learning now known as inclusive education. Though reading material was a challenge, he managed to pass all his subjects and modules refusing to let his disability hold him back.

After college, he quickly got a job in government but assuming duty was a challenge as he had to acquire an assistant resulting in him starting work after two months. However, he eventually realized that he had a deeper calling and decided to leave the government.

“I worked for the government for two years but I discovered I could not really operate in that environment as Government is one of the chief perpetrators of human violations that I sought to fight against”. His love for advocacy has led him to join civic organizations doing advocacy and human rights work through implementing programs on the participation of persons with disabilities in governance.

Abraham has managed to achieve several milestones in his work like ensuring that people with disabilities were included in the constitution.
“I managed to mobilize for voices of people with disabilities to be heard in the constitution and I made sure disability became a thematic issue”.
“However, we were still disappointed on how it came out as the constitution was more politically driven than people-driven”.

His advocacy work has made a huge impact on the disability sector. As part of the Zimbabwe Youth Council where he served as a board member for two terms, he spearheaded the crafting of disability-friendly national youth policy. In his quest for inclusion, Abraham believes the law society of Zimbabwe should do more for persons with disabilities.

“Visibility is the way to go because there is no way we can talk of the rights of persons with disabilities without dealing with the need to make them visible”. He further urged organizations to tap into young minds of youths with disabilities in order to make effective development.

Being a proud husband and father to two children, Abraham believes family is the building block in the society which should be supported. Abraham enjoys working with young people citing that given the necessary support, they can make a positive change.

He also enjoys writing and has written a book chapter called ‘My blind life in a sighted world, a security guard who turned the lawyer into an activist’, found in the Routledge Handbook on disability in Southern Africa.

Access to Justice in Zimbabwe for the deaf. By Michelle Mutogo.

The Zimbabwean Justice system is still lagging behind when it comes to accommodating persons with disabilities.
People with disabilities are sometimes victims of abuse due to the fact that they are vulnerable and are easily taken advantage of. There are a lot of people with disabilities who are sexually abused. The unfortunate thing is that most of them are reluctant to report the perpetrators because they think people may not believe them while others fear the threats made by the perpetrators.

For deaf people, another reason for not reporting cases of sexual abuse is because of the communication barrier. A great number of individuals within the police force are not familiar with sign language and this results in deaf persons shying away from reporting the case as they know that chances are, they will have a problem with communicating with the police officers.

Cases of abuse are sensitive issues which require confidentiality and understanding when gathering evidence and statements. If the police fail to communicate with the victim, the victim will be moved from office to office trying to find an interpreter resulting in the victim’s right to confidentiality being violated. Lack of effective communication between law enforcers and the victim may result in misrepresentation of information. Many deaf people end up being misunderstood resulting in the perpetrator walking scot-free.

The justice system has to ensure that court officials are capacitated with sign language because one should not be disadvantaged due to the fact that they are deaf. The onus is on the justice system to ensure that their officials are familiar with sign language because so many unfair situations can be avoided when the officials understand sign language. Some officers of the court, like the police, are reluctant to deal with deaf victims and this is dangerous because, in the process of avoiding to deal with the deaf, they end up losing apathy, which goes a long way in ensuring that they actually do their job.

The Disability Observer 2019 Issue Number 1
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