Disabled people bear the brunt of food politicisation

Source: Disabled people bear the brunt of food politicisation – NewsDay Zimbabwe April 20, 2016

LAZARUS Chinhara (39), a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is a bitter man.
Chinhara, who is visually impaired, lives in Matore Village, Mupatsi, Chikomba East. He is a father of three and survives from well-wishers, as politicisation of food aid in his village has resulted in him being sidelined.


With him holding the post of PDP’s national secretary for people living with disability, Chinhara and other opposition party members living with different forms of disabilities were not benefiting from both government and civic organisations’ food distribution in the rural areas meant to alleviate hunger.

“This is double tragedy, blindness plus shortage of food, imagine. The situation is rather getting worse, no disabled person affiliated to an opposition party is being given food around Chikomba West constituency. I spoke to a number of disabled persons in Chikomba District who clearly told me that maize distribution is highly politicised,” he said.

A number of other disabled citizens perceived to be members of the opposition have also been singing the blues, as they were allegedly being denied food aid by suspected Zanu PF loyalists in the rural areas.

“I tried to talk to the social workers who are distributing the food and I did not like what I heard, they told me that they have nothing to do with the issue, as ward councillors are the ones to blame.

“We have no option, but to survive from street begging. The non-governmental organisations should help the disabled directly, lest we will perish with hunger,” he said.

As the drought and food situation in the country becomes dire due to the El-nino effects, it is government’s duty to avert starvation.

But unfortunately the exercise has been conducted in a partisan manner, with people living with disabilities feeling the heat, as they were being denied their rights as defined in Section 22 of the country’s Constitution.

PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume said it was worrisome that government uses food as a political tool, without putting into consideration the plight of the vulnerable members of the society.

“It is tragic that this government continues to use food as a voting tool and to punish those who it thinks do not vote for it. It is not only a violation of the Constitution, but a crime against humanity. We need to take legal action against this practice and see if it can be stopped, it takes a special heartlessness to discriminate against the disabled,” he said.

The World Health Organisation (1996) defines disability as ‘any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in a manner or within a range considered normal for a human being’.

The 1982 National Disability Survey of Zimbabwe came up with a working definition of disability as ‘a physical or mental condition, which makes it difficult or impossible for the person concerned to adequately fulfill his or her normal role in society.

An estimated 10% of the country’s population consists of people living with disabilities.

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) spokesperson Obert Gutu said the party’s legislators have already tabled a motion in Parliament condemning politicisation of food aid distribution.

“We are very aware of the sad fact that the Zanu PF regime is politicising the distribution of food aid, particularly in rural areas. What is even more saddening is that even people living with disabilities, who happen to be opposition activists are also being targeted for victimisation and discrimination when it comes to food aid.

“We have brought our complaints to the attention of the relevant authorities in the concerned areas. Our legislators have tabled a Parliamentary motion condemning the politicisation of food aid distribution. As a party, we have a very senior party member, who actually sits in the national executive and he is specifically tasked with handling issues to do with persons living with disabilities,” he said.

According to a recent ZimRights report, in November 2015, massive food politicisation was witnessed at Manica Bridge in Manicaland Province and also the organisation received similar reports in Chivi, Buhera and Mount Darwin.

ZimRights Director Okay Machisa said that both the able bodied and disabled persons who were denied food aid should report the matter to the police, as this was a clear violation of the Constitution.

“The issue of politicisation of food aid is unfortunate and sad. It is a clear violation of section 56 of the Constitution and we are appealing to all citizens of Zimbabwe not to accept any move of discrimination. We call upon anyone who faces such unconstitutional behaviour to immediately call us or report the matter to the nearest police. In this day of technology, quickly communicate the location where the incident is taking place and where possible we will try to get there as soon as possible. We have a number of cases that we have taken to court with regards to selective distribution of food aid and we are quite confident that the culprits will be brought to book. Once a case has been report please ensure that you have informed us so that we can make a follow up with the police,” said Machisa.

According to Section 56 of the Constitution, every person has the right not to be treated in an unfairly discriminatory manner on such grounds as their nationality, race, colour, tribe, place of birth, ethnic or social origin, language, class, religious belief, political affiliation, opinion, custom, culture, sex, gender, marital status, age, pregnancy, disability or economic or social status, or whether they were born out of wedlock.

Claris Madhuku, director of Platform for Youth Development said there was need for people to stand up against the rot.

“The situation is bad and being held systematically. The lists of beneficiaries are processed through traditional leadership. The challenge is that the list is innocent is innocent but the implementation is very much politicised. This is happening in two way, firstly the list will be made with opposition members including even the disabled being omitted.

“Secondly the list is innocent, but members of the opposition parties including the disabled do not receive the food aid but their names are signed as confirmation that they have received their share. To deal with this situation, we have assumed the role of observers and monitors of the process. Our community leaders who are trained for the purpose attend the maize distribution meetings and write reports, we have intercepted the rot on many occasions,” said Madhuku.

According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) submissions to the thematic committee on human rights titled State of Human Rights in Zimbabwe (February 24, 2016, some people were arrested after challenging the way food aid was being distributed.

“There continue to be cases of discrimination in the distribution of food aid, even in instances where it is being distributed by government departments such as the Social Welfare. Some people have been arrested and charged with violating the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act after insisting on accessing food aid that is being distributed on partisan lines. It is trite that relevant government departments ensure that vulnerable groups have access to clean water to prevent the outbreak of water borne diseases,” read part of the submissions.

However, government has persistently denied the reports on food politicisation.

As for Chinhara, he feels his rights were being abused. He and other disabled people continue to bear the name ‘The Forgotten Tribe’, as their welfare still remains in the doldrums.

“It is now difficulty to live as disabled person in Zimbabwe, some are forcing themselves to sleep outside in areas like Beitbridge and Victoria Falls begging for money to make their families survive,” said Chinhara.