“Inside the life of a blind activist. . . says he imagines what the world looks like”

IT took six months for Reverend Murombedzi Kuchera to accept that his child, Masimba Lovemore had been born visually impaired; this because his first born child Ngenyasha was paralysed.
Rev.Kuchera, former General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) is a member of the clergy with the United Church of Christ in Zimbabwe and his wife Betty admit they could not believe that while Ngenyasha was paralysed and unable to talk or use his limbs, having to be fed as he was bed-ridden all his life, suddenly there was another child with a different impairment.
During the consultations for the 2000 constitutional referendum, Masimba advocated for the Electoral act to be amended so that visually impaired people could vote with a person of their choice as opposed to the system which saw them being assisted by four officials unknown to them.
He teamed up with five of his colleagues and with the assistance of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights ZLHR, filed an appeal with the high court just before the March 2008 elections.
The issue was finally concluded on January 28, 2010 when the Supreme Court sitting as a constitutional court unanimously struck down sections 61A and b of the Electoral Act which forced people with visual impairment to vote with at list four people minus a trusted person in attendance.
Masimba continues to make telling contributions in the civic space both locally and internationally. Posts he has held so far include being general-secretary of the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe (SCMZ) 2003-2005, vice chairperson of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) Africa region 2004-2006, board member Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) 2003-2016 including being vice chairperson 2009-2011, president of the Rotaract club of Harare Central 2006-2007 District Rotaract Representative 2008-2009.
He is a member of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates network (EDAN) and he is currently in his second term as a commissioner on the Commission of Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) where he has been serving since 2007.
The CCIA is a commission of the World Council of Churches (WCC) responsible for guiding and advising the World Council on international affairs.
The Daily News on Sunday recently spoke to Masimba and below are some excerpts from the interview:.
Q: Do you sometimes wonder what the world looks like?
A: Having been born blind I have an idea of what the world looks like from the places I’ve been and people I’ve met. My comprehension of the world is not image-based but a collection of memories and imaginations of various places based on descriptions I get from friends, relatives and other sources.
Q: What kind of dreams do you sometimes have?
A: Very difficult to describe because as Psychologytoday.com notes, dreams are the stories the brain tells during sleep — they’re a collection of clips, images, feelings, and memories. So I also go through that process minus the images of course.
Q: How do you navigate your way into the city? And you know where every street is? How do you reconcile all this?
A: It’s partly as a survival skill but it’s also instinctive. As I move around I take interest in where I am so that should I want to go back with someone different I can direct them. It’s worked well so far and the gadgets also help sometimes.
Q: In this technology-driven world, how have electronic gadgets helped you navigate territories?
A: I must say that gadgets have definitely bridged the gap between the visually impaired and the outside world.
Growing up my best friend was the radio and now I can use my phone or my laptop to communicate in real time with the outside world and also integrate myself into what is happening. I can also be independent and competitive in the workplace all because of the various gadgets now available.
Q: What do you think about the social, political and economic situation in Zimbabwe?
A: I think we are not in a good state socially, economically and politically as a nation.
The impact is greater for people with disabilities considering that they are economically inactive due to exclusion and other factors. It’s important for us to get our politics right for the economy to start functioning. I think all leaders should swallow their pride, sit down and put the country first.
Q: Do you think MPs in Parliament who represent those with disabilities are representing their interests, are they putting enough fight and are they being listened to?
A: This question and related questions require an interview of their own because the response is both long and complex, encompassing several factors!! Suffice to say that
I think we are still perpetuating the charity model of disability which we must now move away from and adopt the rights-based approach to disability.
Back to the question, our constitution only provides for two representatives in the senate which I think is under representation.
We tried to point this out to those who were driving the Copac processes through their political parties but they would have none of it. The United Nations estimates at least 15 percent of the population are people with disabilities although government estimates are much lower.
We have in this current Parliament five or six members of Parliament with disabilities who mainly came through the proportional representation route for women.
However, I think all political parties can do more to deliberately support persons with disabilities wanting to be members of Parliament even through direct election. Because of the few numbers I don’t think the nation pays attention to what they are saying.
For example, Zimbabwe signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities UNCRPD on September 23 2013 but nearly six years later, the convention has not yet been domesticated.
Every minister who comes into office since then always promises that it will be done under their watch but alas, people with disabilities continue to wait and have lost faith in the system to be frank.
Q: Are our workplaces conducive to blind people?
A: Difficult to say since there are very few visually impaired people formally employed other than in government mainly as teachers.
My view though is that most workplaces are not conducive for visually impaired people due to a number of factors.
Firstly there’s discrimination due to lack of knowledge, the fear to take risks and the misplaced view that employing a visually impaired person or a person with a disability in general is costly.
This makes it difficult especially for capable blind people to get employment and this is unfortunately glaring in the private sector and civil society.
For instance, you have organisations requiring “clean class 4 driver’s licences” for the post of a program officer.
Does it mean that if there’s no vehicle that officer will not go to do their assignment by other means? I always joke with friends to say “by the way who cleanses the licences anyway?”
With the number of fake and corruptly acquired licences how verifiably clean can it be? If we use the rights-based disability model and approach to employment where we employ on merit this may change.
However we are still steeped in the charity model where we think employing a blind person is done out of sympathy. We can learn from South Africa and other countries around the world how this can be done and begin as a country to rip the dividend of inclusion.
Q: When and where were you born, how many are you in your family?
A: I was born on June 20, 1981 in Chitungwiza. We were seven, six boys and one girl but now six remain, our eldest brother passed on in September 2004.
Q: Are you the only child with a disability in your family, how did your family react to this?
A: I am not the only one, the first born in our family, our eldest brother was also unable to walk or talk during his lifetime. He was bedridden and stayed in that condition till he passed on in 2004.
Q: Which schools did you attend?
A: I did my primary at St. Giles School, went to Copota for Form 1 to Form 4 then completed my high school at Prince Edward School. I then went to the University of Zimbabwe where I studied Sociology.
Q: Where the schools equipped enough to cater for students like you?
A: St. Giles and Copota did have equipment although they were lagging behind. These are specialised schools for people with disabilities and because of that the equipment was there.
However, we were always several years behind considering that by the time I left Copota in 1998 computers were not yet introduced for instance.
Q: What areas of improvement do you think schools need to cater for blind students? Is there enough learning materials and qualified teachers?
A: I think that a lot should happen in this area considering the times we now live in. Government should move towards disability inclusion in the education sector.
This entails updating the curriculum so that all teachers learn about disability and how to cope with students with disabilities at any school.
The current set up is that what government calls special needs education is optiomal but I think basic modules of that course should be integrated into teacher-training certificates, diplomas and degrees.
Q: What kind of profession are you into? Where do you work and were else have you worked in the past?
A: Currently, I’m not in permanent employment, have not been for a number of years now due to limited opportunities for persons with disabilities. I consult on social and economic rights and also disability rights.
Q: Are you married, how did you meet your wife, and what convinced you that she was the one for you?
A: I am indeed married and I was introduced to my wife Kudakwashe by a mutual friend. I don’t mean those we find on Facebook, but a real friend.
We began as friends and natural processes took over. Through continuous interaction I was convinced that she is the only one meant for me.
In the past 10 years we’ve been married she continues to be a lovely, loving, supportive and understanding wife.
She is also a pillar of strength and voice of reason who has managed to keep me on the straight and narrow. By the way, she is also very beautiful even up to now and I’ll explain on another day how I know this!!
Q: How many kids do you have and how do you relate to them? How have they taken your disability?
A: We have been blessed with two boys, aged eight and four. I must say that we haven’t had an in-depth discussion around my disability but that’s what they’ve grown up with and they accord me due respect.
At no point have I felt disrespected by them.

Daily News on Sunday