Between a rock and hard place

HARARE - “We will not go anywhere, this is where we belong.” This was the message by people who are living with disabilities at a Leonard Chishire home, as court officials threatened to kick them out of the only home they have known for over two decades.

On March 10, the Sheriff of the High Court sent a notice of seizure and attachment ordering 17 people living with disabilities to vacate Masterton court within 48 hours or be forcibly ejected from the place.

The people who are evicting them are the trustees of the Leonard Cheshire Home Zimbabwe Central Trust.

“To me these people are murderers, killing our hope, our souls. To us, these people are supposed to be our parents, but they are throwing us out,” a representative of the Leonard Cheshire Avenues Home Lewis Garaba said.

Garaba and other residents’ hopes are pinned on the promises made by the State in the Constitution to protect people with disabilities and support them in making something out of their lives.

According to Section 83 of the Constitution: “The State must take appropriate measures, within the limits of the resources available to it, to ensure that persons with disabilities realise their full mental and physical potential, including measures — (a) to enable them to become self-reliant;

“To enable them to live with their families and participate in social, creative or recreational activities; to protect them from all forms of exploitation and abuse; to give them access to medical, psychological and functional treatment; to provide special facilities for their education; and to State-funded education and training where they need it.”

Section 22 further says1 that: “The State must take appropriate measures to ensure that buildings and amenities to which the public has access are accessible to persons with disabilities.”

Garaba said: “The home belongs to the community, and it was under Leonard Cheshire Home Zimbabwe, zvakatangwa nevarungu (it was an initiative by the whites), they started this. But the trustees want to just sell the property. But we are saying no, there are still disabled people who need this home.

“They put this place here because it is close to hospitals, easy access to the central business district but Ben Chikwanha, the executive director of the disability trust, is just thinking of making money out of it, for his personal use.

“Where will we go, we don’t know any other place and who will accept us as we are, where else will we get the same facilities that are friendly to our condition?”

The residents are accusing Chikwanha of harbouring cruel intentions, believing he wants to sell the property or convert it for personal use.

“When we moved in we never signed to any conditions of moving out. And some people might be said to have overstayed is because of the lack of support from the trust. And also there was no longer a management committee running the homes after it was scrapped off,” Garaba narrated.

He added, “After we noticed that the other rooms were not occupied we decided to rent them out for survival, on our commercial side. And those who could cook meals for sale started doing that. We did all this to deal with the situation that was on the ground. We have been living here without support but we used to hear that there were some monies that would come to support the Leonard Cheshire homes, but that money never got to us.

“We ended up using our life savings to try and invest in business to sustain ourselves and some never took off. In 1999, led by Chikwanha they withdrew food allocations, and we even approached human rights organisations to assist us because people had been just left with nothing. Their motive was to force people out after failing to pay water and other bills, which would have resulted in maybe Harare City Council shutting down the place. Even in court they admitted that it was a punitive measure.

“Moreover, Chikwanha changed the name of the organisation to Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe Trust and it really shows his motive. And this board has no people with disabilities and we don’t even know where they came from.

“We tried engaging the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and even the police, but there has not been any follow-up on the issue.”

The organisation initially started operating in 1981 and it is a member of the Leonard Cheshire Disability Global Alliance.

The residents have tried to get relief from the parent organisation, but were told to solve the crisis locally.

“So now we are saying, who is evicting us? And when we look at people like Chikwanha, we see that he was supposed to have been in the office for just five years, but has stayed for about 30 years,” Garaba said.

“But he has not offered any alternative. In the beginning the set up was that someone would come and stay alone, but as time went on people ended up getting married and having families.

“And then there is the issue of this $800, they said it was supposed to be a loan but no one has been given that loan.”

Attempts were made to get in touch with Chikwanha but the number availed to the Daily News on Sunday was not going through.

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