BULAWAYO, 2 March (IRIN) - The Zimbabwean
government has responded to calls to provide better support to the disabled
by injecting Zim $5 billion (US $1.1 million) into the National Disability
Board (NDB), an advisory body that helps develop national policy.
Addressing delegates at a workshop on community awareness of disability in the Matabeleland South provincial capital of Gwanda last week, board chairman Joshua Malinga said the bulk of the money would be used to fund income-generating projects for the disabled in all the 10 provinces of the country. The Gwanda workshop marked the beginning of nationwide consultations.
"We were allocated Zim $5 billion for disability programmes. Zim $300 million (US $71,000) will go to advocacy campaigns whose main thrust is to inject a disability dimension in both government thinking and planning - this is to make sure that we are included in all government plans and programmes," said Malinga.
The income-generating projects would allow the disabled greater independence and self-esteem. "Self-help projects are our main area of concern. For so long the disabled have been viewed as people who can only exist on handouts," Malinga said. "This is the time for us to be involved in the mainstream economy."
He noted that the funds would be released as soon as disbursement procedures were completed, but they were not sufficient to meet the needs of the country's disabled, estimated at 10 percent of the population, according to a recent survey by the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD).
"We need special equipment for use by the disabled. This includes various types of vehicles like wheelchairs, tricycles and other specialised disability aids which have to be imported. Although money has been set aside to assist those who would import such equipment, the import duties will certainly take a big chunk of the fund. Due to the strict budget, money for direct public assistance programmes remains very insignificant," Malinga explained.
While welcoming the government's allocation, SAFOD secretary-general Alexander Phiri warned about the centralisation of funds in the capital, Harare, and called for a secretariat to be set up, with a director appointed to oversee the equitable distribution of the money.
"The Disabled Persons Act calls for the establishment of a secretariat and its appendages nationwide, down to district level. But we do not have that secretariat at present. The disabled, who are the supposed beneficiaries, have no clue of how to access the funds," he noted.
"Most of them live in areas which are so remote that even the nationwide workshops will never be held. An all-encompassing outreach programme can only be done by a special secretariat that goes down to district and ward level, because the disabled have movement limitations. Holding workshops in every provincial capital is far from the solution, unless if it is intended to reach an enlightened clique in the towns," said Phiri.
He suggested that the NDB's insistence on working through government departments, like the Department of Social Welfare, would only worsen discrimination against the disabled. He said the department was already overstretched, and the disabled would be at the bottom of its priority list.
"Besides the bureaucracy, which even those without disabilities find restrictive and discouraging, screening for suitability is done by general welfare officers who are not sensitive to the needs of the disabled. That is why we need specialised teams to handle disability issues at all levels," Phiri urged.
The SAFOD survey on disability in Zimbabwe found that the disabled frequently lived in conditions of dire poverty, lacking access to education, government grants and employment.
Nevertheless, Zimbabwe is one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa with disability legislation. The Disabled Persons Act was passed in 1994 for the purpose of "enhancing the educational, social and occupational interests of Zimbabweans with disabilities", according to a study reported in the US-based Journal of Rehabilitation.
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