Op-Ed: Charity begets charity – Time to enforce the human rights model on disability

Op-Ed: Charity begets charity – Time to enforce the human rights model on disability

The constitution of Zimbabwe recognises the rights of persons with disabilities but is limited as it states that government is mandated to act if resources permit, which the already cash-strapped and ailing Zimbabwe government can use in order not to honour its obligation to provide appropriate services for the disabled. By SALLY NYAKANYANGA.

As you enter Baines and Mazowe streets in the Avenues – a residential and business area about 1.8km from Harare’s Central Business District (CBD) – you are welcomed by old, worn-out and abandoned furniture and domestic appliances.

Further down, a green tent hangs perilously covering the property (beds, blankets, clothes, cupboards) of some of the former occupants and beneficiaries of the Leonard Cheshire Masterton Home.

Last April, 17 occupants of the Masterton Home (a Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe Trust property – an organisation that champions the rights of persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe) were evicted from the place which many of them had called home for more than 20 years. This was after a Supreme Court ruling in November last year ordered their ouster.

One of the disabled former resident, Robert Chiite, 46, who is physically challenged due to polio, came to the home in 1997.

This home was established for people with disabilities (PWDs) but now we have been locked out of the place and left out in the cold,” he complained.

Problems at Leonard Cheshire Masterton Home and its occupants started in 1999, according to the Development Initiatives and Services 2001 report, due to budgetary constraints stemming from erratic financial support from its donors. The home began to struggle to adequately provide for the needs of the beneficiaries.

The trust stopped its mandate of taking care of us. We were depending on the home for our food supplies, medical support, acquisition of life skills but that all stopped,” said Chiite.

As a result, Chiite and other occupants looked for alternative means to survive. And as Rungano Matanga, 45, another beneficiary recounts, they had no option but to lease part of the home to doctors, and other tenants who ran tuck-shops, restaurants, and phone shops.

We had no option because we had to pay bills. That is also the time I embarked on selling fruits and vegetables for upkeep,” added Rungano.

Greater Chivandire, the director for Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe Trust noted that residents at Masterton Home refused to vacate the home despite them offering to buy beneficiaries flats or residential stands.

They chased away nurse aides working at the home and Léonard Cheshire staff were banished from entering the premise. The home was no longer maintained causing deterioration in the state of the building and general health conditions,” said Chivandire.

The Leonard Cheshire Home was established in 1980 with the aim of raising funds to provide for the rehabilitation of permanently physically impaired people. The Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe Trust (LCDZT) established homes in Harare: Masterton and Westwood Children’s Homes.

Chivandire explained that the home would prepare disabled people for eventual self-reliance or independent living, as such his organisation would support beneficiaries with accommodation, paying for their vocational and skills training courses, hiring nurse aids to assist inmates at the home and support those undergoing physiotherapy at Parirenyatwa Hospital and St Giles Rehabilitation Centre in Harare.

The policy of the home was to admit into the residence a specific number of inmates at a given time, rehabilitate them and release them for integration into the community. The home had a capacity of 25.

However, in 1999, the LCDZT decided to close the home and gave notice to beneficiaries to vacate the home but faced resistance. According to a 2001 report compiled by Development Initiatives and Services (DIS), a consultancy firm was tasked to assess the conditions at the Masterton Home; they said that the Masterton Home had great difficulty in convincing funding agencies to provide funds for the home, making it impossible to continue to provide for the beneficiaries. This was the reason why beneficiaries at the home were asked to leave.

However, this was followed by a 17-year court battle. Meanwhile the residents at the home were running the place on their own. Though they were offered start-up capital, flats or housing stands, which could enable them to move on with their lives the majority refused to take up such offers.

However, two beneficiaries agreed to receive start-up capital from LCDZT and embarked on farming and leather making businesses, which they are running to this day.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) defines PWDs as individuals with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Further, disability is seen as an evolving concept.

The 2013 Zimbabwe Disability Survey estimated that 7% of the 13-million population then in Zimbabwe have a form of disability, which amounts to more than 900,000 people. On the other hand, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that PWDs constitute more than 15% percent of the world’s population.

Research has shown that PWDs particularly in developing countries such as Zimbabwe have many barriers that militate against them living fully independent lives, hence they are reduced to objects of pity and seen as charity cases. This has resulted in the exclusion of PWDs in national processes and programming.

Edmos Mtetwa, a Social Work Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe in his 2011 paper entitled Policy Dimension of Exclusion: Disability as Charity and not Right in Zimbabwe posited that the Disabled Persons Act (DPA) of 1992 amended in 1996, administered by the Department of Social Welfare assumes that it is the impairment that causes disability and not the social environment in which persons with impairments live.

Mtetwa argues that from such a policy framework, disability is viewed from a charitable and not from a human rights perspective. The DPA gives employers discretionary powers to decide the nature of jobs to be given to persons with disabilities, making them extremely vulnerable to discrimination in the labour market. Mtetwa thus highlights that the DPA is a mere incremental empty shell policy bent on reducing PWDs to objects of pity.

In the social setting, people with disabilities are invisible because generally the country’s social amenities are not disability friendly and as such this had hindered PWDs in participating in social activities. They are confined to institutions where “specialised” and limited activities are developed for them.

The greatest handicaps PWDs have faced are negative societal attitudes, stigma and discrimination. This points to the models that have been used to explain and address disability issues.

The charity/tragedy model has been used to address disability in the country, resulting in PWDs seen as charity cases as opposed to independent individuals with goals and ambitions to fulfil. The lack of supportive structures in the country at all levels has hindered many PWDs in reaching their full potential resulting in their lack of participation even in processes that directly affects them.

The charity or tragedy model views persons with disabilities as victims of circumstances, deserving pity. PWDs are seen as tragic victims who need care and are not capable of looking after themselves or managing their own affairs – thus needing charity in order to survive.

It is important to note that models of disability have been used as tools for defining impairment and, ultimately, for providing a basis upon which government and society can devise strategies for meeting the needs of disabled people.

Mtetwa expounded that in Zimbabwe, charities such as the Jairos Jiri Association, a disabled people’s organisation, have used the charity or tragedy model to raise funds for running institutions for persons with disabilities. This has further buttressed the charity approach.

The “care” culture or syndrome has reduced PWDs to mere vagabonds – poverty wearing a disability face. For instance, taking a stroll in Harare’s CBD, on road intersections and buses – PWDs are known for singing and asking for alms. These are the effects of the charity/tragedy model, it is disempowering because it promotes charity for PWDs in order for them to survive as opposed to independent living.

This creates the need to create an inclusive environment that takes into account the needs of PWDs, a fair and accessible society. Despite Zimbabwe being a pioneer in the region to enact a disability law in 1992, the Disabled Persons Act, the living conditions of PWDs remains dire.

The fragmentation of the disability movement has also compounded the burden of PWDs. Most Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) are said to lack capacity, co-ordination and unity of purpose. Though there are umbrella bodies that represent the disabled such as Federation of Disabled People in Zimbabwe (FODPZ), which lack the capacity to play a leading role, while National Association and Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) is financially crippled at present and not fully operational.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified in Zimbabwe in 2013 but is yet to be domesticated. This is a positive move by government towards recognition of PWDs and removing of barriers that have hindered their full potential and access to equal opportunities.

The convention outlines the civil, cultural, political, social and economic rights of people with disabilities, and obligates member states, and signatories to the convention to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people with disabilities and prompt respect for their inherent dignity.

The convention promotes the human rights model, which sees impairment as normal for any population. Colin Barnes and Geof Mercer, known disability scholars, stipulate that impairments need not lead to exclusion and inequality if inclusive policies are implemented.

Mtetwa points out the need to educate charity managers and professionals in government is to review the way they operate and ensure that resources are channelled to promote the empowerment of persons with disabilities and their full integration into the mainstream society as equal citizens deserving respect and not pity.

The constitution of Zimbabwe in Section 22 and 83 recognises the rights of PWDs but is limited as it states that government is mandated to act if resources permit, which the already cash-strapped and ailing Zimbabwe government can use in order not to honour its obligations of providing appropriate services for the disabled.

The Leonard Cheshire Home is a classic case of charity begetting charity. In Shona, there is adage that says Chisi chako masimba mashoma (One has no say or power over what is not theirs). No one has even become rich from charity.

There is need for government to take appropriate measures to enforce the rights-based approach, that looks at disability as a development issue and endeavour to build an inclusive society and meet the basic needs of PWDs.

The remaining occupants of Masterton Home remain hopeful of claiming their home back. Some have since left, after having received $800 as start-up capital and have already begun a new chapter in their lives.

The situation is sad but these are the effects of charity. DM

Sally Nyakanyanga is an independent journalist and development specialist based in Zimbabwe. She covers human rights, gender, developmental or humanitarian issues. She has written for News Deeply, Africa Renewal, IPS, Mail and Guardian (Bhekisisa), Irin News and Open Democracy

Photo: Anjan58 (flickr)


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