“Everything we do, we do it in a very special way. Our issues should be prioritised because we are coming out of an era in which we have been relegated to the periphery,” says the former teacher from Shabanie Primary School in Zvishavane.
Shiri says her vision was for a Zimbabwe with disabled people in important public positions, such as ambassadors, ministers and councillors.
“Our living standards are pathetic compared to those of our fellows in other countries,” she says. “I look forward to a Zimbabwe where there is equality in all spheres of life for people with disability.”
Shiri urged government to speed up harmonisation of the country’s laws with the directives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to bring about improved living standards.
“This will ensure that disabled people would have access to amenities, information on health and inclusion in economic spheres among other things,” she said.
Interviewed by The Zimbabwean, Shiri traced the steps she took to enter politics, and her plans for her five-year tenure as a senator.
She was born in Chief Chingana’s area at Mutume Mission hospital in Mberengwa and completed her primary education at Makuva School. She studied for her O levels at Musume Secondary School.
She later went on to take a diploma in education from Mkoba Teachers’ College and then worked for 13 years as a teacher at Shabanie Mine School in Zvishavane.
“I was involved in a car accident in 1993 and my left leg was amputated way above the knee,” says Shiri. “Towards the end of the year, I met Robert Mukuzva while I was travelling from Gweru to Zvishavane. He is disabled but his attitude towards life motivated me to join the National Council of Disabled People in Gweru.”
After joining the organisation in 1994, she started doing voluntary work and was chosen as chair of the women’s wing.
“The organisation presented an opportunity for me to interact with colleagues and enhanced my capacities to champion disability issues using my personal experience to claim my space in society,” says Shiri. “I started to be an advocate for disability issues at community level to an extent that I managed to change people’s perceptions of the disabled.”
As an advocate for disability issues, Shiri spearheaded the establishment of the organisation’s Zvishavane branch and continued doing voluntary work for the organisation. She then chaired the Community Working Group on Health in Zvishavane, a post that presented many opportunities to “amplify the voice of the disabled”.
Shiri says she felt honoured to be chosen as a senator, but also humbled by the responsibility of representing such a large group of people.
“There are a lot of issues that need redress at policy level. As the voice of these people in parliament, I promise to work for the development and empowerment of people with disability. It is my wish that other legislators integrate disability related concerns in all their activities – pastors, traditional leaders, politicians, civil society organisations and citizens should all ensure the inclusion of our issues in all spheres of life,” she says.
“We are Zimbabweans just like everyone else and, because being disabled is expensive, there is need for a comprehensive approach to ensure that the disabled are empowered.
“Poverty and disability are worst enemies because the former worsens our plight. Inclusion in the country’s economic policies, such as Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, is important so that we are able to fend for ourselves and our families.”
Asked about what government’s priorities should be, Shiri says the laws needed to be harmonised and implemented.
“We are not second class citizens whose aspirations should be ignored. Changing lives starts at community level and then it cascades nationally.
People with disability should also play their part and engage society. “There are times when society discriminates against people with disability and when the discrimination is just too much, they become hostile.
On advice for aspiring MPs with disabilities, Shiri says: “Speak out and leave a mark wherever you are. Every platform matters, be it at household, community or national level. Change starts with us. Let us talk disability issues.
“If you are able to champion disability issues at household level, then the rest will be history. Be focused and strive to be the best that you can be in all spheres. Being differently bodied is no excuse for failure, because we can.”Post published in: News