The Launch of the Zimbabwe National Disability Policy and Its Implications
On 9 June, 2021, Zimbabwe finally launched its own disability policy. This had been hailed as a positive development as far as upholding the rights of persons with disabilities is concerned. Even from its own prefatory remarks, one gets a sense that this document is positioning itself to be a revolutionary instrument.
The policy prides itself as progressively realising the rights of people with disabilities as provided for by both international and national legal instruments. For instance, its reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) means it seeks to be a rights-based framework.
Why the Policy?
But why is this policy being hailed as one of the nation’s greatest achievement since the referendum of the New Constitution in 2013? Part of the answer has to do with the collective hopes of people with disabilities.
Discrimination is a fact of life in Zimbabwe for people with disabilities. Each person experiences it in different ways. It takes the form of negative attitudes, behaviours and pronouncements some of which are firmly grounded in not only cultural beliefs, but rules and regulations. Certainly these rules and regulations would be informed by social values and fears. Consequently, they deprive the disability community the opportunity to thrive in their careers.
To change this, disability activists had been lobbying for a fundamental shift in national psyche. This could be done by three things:
- The domestication of the United Nations convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities;
- A new and progressive legislation on disability to replace the Disabled Persons Act of 1992; and
- A disability policy.
Hence, the national disability policy represents one of the long-held ambitions for upholding the rights of people with disabilities.
Though the policy purports to be anchored on the social model, it still lacks an empowering legislation to back it. As of the date of writing, there is no new legislation on disability that aligns with both the Constitution and the CRPD. This is problematic as in some of its sections, the policy creates some offences,1 a task that would have been done better by an Act of Parliament. In short, the document may not stand any challenge in a court of law until it is backed by not only the enabling legislation, but also the Constitution.
The Promised Land?
The positive takeaway from this whole experience is that disability is handled as a human rights discourse. It means that the state itself is to be bound by its own statutes and all the international conventions it might have ratified relating to disability.
This is the goal of the disability community: to be treated as humans who possess full rights, and to be able to participate in the social, economic and civic life of the country. While they may have limitations, these should not be used to deprive them of their rights. This is their long-cherished dream.
But the promised land may remain that: one that offers us with the prospects of a good life, but takes years to get to. Perhaps this could be it? Let us wait and see.
See, for example, Section 3.2.1 of the National Disability Policy. ↩︎