Disabled, blind Zims flock to Beira

BEIRA - It is 5 am when Elizabeth Takawira works up. She does her bathing and dresses like any other professional worker ready to go for work.

While others would be in their various workplaces including comfortable offices and mechanical workshops, Elizabeth heads for the streets with her tools that include a metal plate for begging. She calls the street as her office.

In a recent survey carried by The Zimbabwean, street kids, the disabled and visually impaired people from Zimbabwe are flocking to neighbouring Mozambique to scratch a living from begging.

Elizabeth, a blind mother of two, spends time begging in the streets of Beira at busy intersections while her children Tatenda (12) and Tavonga (9) run from car to car with a metal plate begging for money.

The two children have also ventured into car washing and selling cigarettes as a way of survival.

Peter Makoni, also visually impaired, begs for money at the popular Mira Mar centre on one of Beiras beaches. He sings gospel tunes and plays a box guitar to entertain the people – many of them Zimbabweans on holiday – who in turn fill his small metal plate with coins and notes, Mozambican Meticais, South African Rand and United States Dollars.

Elizabeth and Makoni are among hundreds of Zimbabweans who have fled the political and economic crisis in their home country.

Life in Zimbabwe was worsening by the day and in 2007, I decided to leave with my children because there was no one to look after them. I tried to look for help from the Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare but to no avail. And they talk of Independence. What independence can we talk about when people are suffering like that? asked an emotional Elizabeth, who comes from Chivi.

She said she tried to get assistance from various NGOs.

We were sidelined and were labelled as MDC supporters by the traditional leaders in my home area. So when the relief food was distributed, they sidelined us. So when some members are being sidelined and victimized is there any independence in that country? I became hopeless and desperate, she said.

My children and I did not have any travel documents. But, a lady whose name I cannot remember drove us here. Like a miracle, kind-hearted personnel at Forbes Border Post who seemed aware of the economic and political challenges vulnerable groups face allowed us entry, as I told them that I wanted to do some shopping, she said.

I used to sleep in backyards and sometimes in shop verandas. I met another Zimbabwean business woman, Sharon Dhliwayo, who felt sorry for me. Now I live in one room at an old building with my two children. Mrs Dhliwayo is paying rent for me. We survive on handouts from well-wishers. There is an inclusive government, but it seems as if it is not working at all. At the moment I do not have plans to go back home, she said.

The government and other stakeholders should ensure that the rights and other issues affecting the lives of people living with disabilities are uplifted to improve their lives. That is what I call independence, she said.

She also sells boiled eggs in a joint venture with musician Peter Makoni.

Makoni said he was now comfortable in Beira. He fled Zimbabwe in March 2008.

There are a lot of sympathizers who give me money to survive on. Many of them are Zimbabweans and South Africans who understand my music. I am a loner. My wife ran away from me and was married by another man. She took away my children and I decided to leave Zimbabwe. I came here with the help of Paul Sithole who worked for CMPZ. I do not have any intensions of going back to Zimbabwe because the government does not have the plight of the disabled at heart, he said.

“I have no reason to celebrate independence when in actual fact I am not independent. I do not know whether I will return home, but I understand that there was the constitution-making process in Zimbabwe. I hope it addressed the issues affecting blind people and other disabled people.

Makoni added that the absence of a law binding a specific ministry to take care of the needs of the disabled was disadvantaging them.

When I was in Zimbabwe, I witnessed cases were disabled people being forced to move from one government department to another to have certain issues attended to. There is need for people living with disabilities to speak with one voice so that issues affecting them can be seriously addressed,” he said.

The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), an organisation that assists refugees and asylum seekers, said it had noted the increase of visual impaired and disabled persons travelling to Mozambique.

We have noted as tragic the plight of visually impaired and other physically challenged Zimbabweans. The increased advent of these vulnerable groups is a cause for concern to us. It clearly reflects the great tragedy that is in Zimbabwe today, said Simon Chipere of ZEF.

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