Persons with disabilities are the world’s largest minority group and more than 80 percent of them live in developing and post-conflict countries. The disability community remains largely excluded from public life and is underrepresented in parliaments and political parties, limiting their ability to directly engage in decisions that impact their lives.
Statistics from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission show that only 29,803 people with disabilities were registered for the 2018 elections from at least 450,000 PWDs eligible.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) Programs Coordinator Ellen Dingani said that the reason why they are few PWDs participating in elections was mainly that the quota system for people with disabilities in the electoral system is very low.
“We only have a representative of PWDs is in Senate and not National Assembly so the quota is low and there is need for better mechanisms for people with disabilities in Parliament and so that they also hold political positions,” she said.
Dingani urged, the government to put in place reforms to ensure that PWDs fully engage in politics through a fully meaningful quota of PWDs in the National Assembly, for example, the women’s quota so that they are also represented. In local authorities, they should also be given an opportunity and a quota to participate in different positions of representation.
She further highlighted that for PWDs to fully participate in elections there is a need for political parties to mainstream them in the executive and structure levels.
Digani also noted that Zimbabwe is a signatory to the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance among others. However, elections environment is usually marred with violence making it difficult for PWDs to participate in elections.
“PWDs are usually discouraged to participate in elections mainly because they do not see a political representative in parliament and also our environment is not friendly for them i.e those who are visually impaired and those in wheelchairs will not be able to run when violence occurs during rallies,” she said.
Dingani urged ZEC to do mobile registration door-to-door campaigns like what they do during census in order for PWDs to fully participate in elections and to also frequently use braille and sign language so that no one is left behind.
Speaking in an interview with this reporter Deaf Zimbabwe Trust Communication Officer Tinotenda Chikunya said that there is an urgent need for political parties to introduce quota systems for PWDs mainly because there is a lack of access to information such as public meetings, voters registration, and even political parties meetings.
“PWDs are discriminated and society thinks that they have nothing to offer and are not given equal opportunities. It is sad to note that we have only two people out of 1.4 million PWDs representative in government this shows that policies in most political parties do not accommodate PWDs,” she said.
Chikunya urged society to stop stigmatisation and discrimination against PWDs.
“Society believes that PWDs are outcasts resulting in some PWDs not having National Identification Cards, infringing their rights to participate in electoral processes,” she said.
Chikunya urged the government to try and ensure that all their facilities are disabilities friendly including voter registration facilities and introduce booths to allow disability inclusion since it’s every citizen’s right to vote in secrecy.
Zimbabwe was one of the first countries to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013, but remain one of the few countries in Africa with legislations that specifically cater for people with disabilities. Robert Masunda director of Gateway to Elation said that by domesticating the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the country would have moved together with other progressive countries in putting disability on the national agenda.
“The national disability policy will ensure that facilities such as ramps, for those on wheelchairs and Braille for the visually impaired among other disabled-friendly facilities are found in public places,” he said.
Masunda further highlighted challenges being faced by people who are visually impaired and said that they are not accessing voter education materials.
“Voter’s education Information is not accessible for us as visually impaired people there is need for information to be in braille so that we can read and also in audio formats to listen so that they are not left behind. Another issue is that of polling stations, these places are difficult for blind people to navigate since voting is a right and a secret blind people should be allowed to bring people of their choices when casting ballots,” he said.
Masunda also urged political parties to create a quota system for people living with disabilities since they also have rights to choose and rights to be voted for as well
Stigmatisation against PWDs should stop and political parties should create positions for PWDs. They have a lot to offer to the nation and this would also create positive discrimination since most people believe that the visually impaired should only be in churches and begging, but times have changed they also have rights to choose and to be voted for,” he said.
National Council of Disabilities Person of Zimbabwe Women’s wing Chair lady Joyce Togarepi criticized politicians for not including persons with disabilities even in their manifestos.
We have no braille manifestos and even sign language interpreters to help persons who have hearing and those visually impaired so that they also partake in elections because no one cares this has resulted in some PWDs not motivated in elections,” she said.
Togarepi also highlighted that the reasons why persons with disabilities do not participate in elections is also because of violence and also the issue of vote-buying.
However, Togarepi also urged political parties to put quota system so that there will be inclusion for persons with disabilities in party structures.
“Person with disabilities can only claim their spaces if they are also included in party structures because there would be nothing for them without them,” she said.
She also urged ZEC to ensure that they should introduce PWDs polling officers in every polling station.
Section 67 of the Zimbabwean Constitution also emphasizes the right to participate in elections and be represented. However, director and disability activist of Young Voices disability Forum Nyasha Mahwende said that politics is not user-friendly for PWDs at all.
“Politics is not friendly to us people who live with disabilities. Recently I was invited to a new political party rally launch and the leader was arrested and the moment police came in some people ran away and I was left there because I’m physically disabled, I could not run. This is just an example of why we PWDs do not want to enter the game of politics. Another issue is that people always look down upon us as persons with disabilities therefore most of us now no longer want to be part of politics since it requires one to have resources for campaigning,” she said.