By Tapiwa Mutizamhepo
People with Disabilities and their organizations have roundly condemned the flurry of “wheelchair” jokes and articles that recently circulated on social media and other sections of the mainstream media, calling them provocative and insensitive to the issues to do with disabilities.
After the cabinet presented the President Robert Mugabe with a belated birthday present which was initially called a ‘special chair’ by the state broadcaster which sent people into a frenzy connecting the statement to the first lady’s past comments about getting Mugabe a special chair which he would continue to rule from.
The broadcaster later changed the narrative calling the chair what it really was, a special massage chair. Nonetheless, this didn’t stop the masses from the having a field day making Wheelchair jokes to make a point that Mugabe was no longer fit for office. Other sections of the mainstream media were at the forefront of this ridicule.
The April 6 edition of the Newsday, carried a headline “No to ‘Wheelchair’ President” where it said opposition leaders vowed not to be silenced and stopped by a wheelchair-bound President.
Fadzai Mahere, who ironically is a human rights lawyer, also took to twitter on the 5th of April and posted an image of herself seated in a wheelchair with a caption “So exhausted. Decided to get a massage.
Tapera Nyoni, a wheelchair user says he found NewsDay’s story, “very offensive, demeaning and placing people with disabilities and wheelchair users as second class citizens who are not fit to occupy leadership positions including the highest political office in the land”
Vice Secretary General of African Youth with Disabilities Network and Disability Human Rights Activist, Tapiwa Tsikai wrote on his Blog, (wearealsohuman.wordpress.com) said “I have made an observation that Zimbabwean society seems to think disability is hilarious, many people are really insensitive towards people with disabilities, the general portrayal of people with disabilities is that of insignificant people and if voted into office they would make terrible leaders”.
He added, “It’s sad how prominent lawyers such as Fadzai Mahere instead of helping us champion our rights as people with disabilities is seen working against us through making insensitive jokes about disability.
Newsday, Fadzayi Mahere and Bustop TV hurt the feelings of people with disabilities in Zimbabwe and it would be prudent for them to apologize to us”.
Fambaineni Magweva is National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) Director, he explains some terms of the violated terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), “Article 8 of the convention requires State parties to combat stereotypes, prejudice and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age in all areas of life.
Article 17 states that every person with disabilities has a right to respect for his her physical and mental integrity on the equal basis with others. ”
Advocate Fadzayi Mahere and Bustop TV have since apologized saying it was never their intention to hurt the feelings of people with disabilities.
By Tapiwa Mutizamhepo