Mainstream Miss Deaf Zimbabwe
By Lazarus Sauti
HARARE – Fourteen beautiful and brave young women took to the catwalk recently to bring deaf and hearing communities together as well as raise awareness about Zimbabwe’s deaf society.
Like other models, they expected to be awarded modestly, but that was not the case as the winner of Miss Deaf Zimbabwe 2017, Chiedza Hukuimwe, walked away with a shocking as well as an insulting $8.50 raised by well-wishers in the crowd.
This reduced Hukuimwe, other models as well as persons with disabilities to passive objects of kind acts or donations rather than empowered individuals with rights to participate in social life.
Miss Deaf Zimbabwe organiser and founder member, Madeline Yohane, said sponsors spurned the event, held at LongChen Plaza under the theme ‘Beauty with Silent Voice’, and few individuals plus Oceane Perfumes supported the event through hampers.
Due to lack of support, she asserted, the models never went to camp as with other beauty pageants, but they pooled their resources to come for daily rehearsals.
While sponsors and the corporate world avoided the event, the same cannot be said about other local beauty pageants as business moguls and corporate entities flock in droves to support them.
A good case is the Miss Tourism Zimbabwe pageant, held at the glamorous Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) in November last year, and attended by high flyers like Princess Corrina zu Sayn-Wittgenstein from Germany, business magnate Justice Maphosa and his wife, the First Lady Dr. Grace Mugabe, her daughter Bona and son-in-law Simba Chikore.
Captains of industry from southern Africa also attended the event, which was broadcasted live on national broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Television (ZTV).
Ashley Morgan, the winner of the Miss Tourism Zimbabwe 2016, walked away with a cool $20 000, a car, as well as a trip to the United States of America and a hamper of ‘I love New York’ brand of cosmetics.
More so, all contestants who made it into the top 10 received $1 000 each and a year’s tuition to further their education.
While Morgan was smiling all the way to the bank as the winner of Miss Tourism Zimbabwe, Hukuimwe was shocked and disappointed to receive a paltry $8.50 solicited from the crowd.
This also raises a lot of questions.
Why individuals as well as corporate bodies are turning away from noble events such as Miss Deaf Zimbabwe, but jostling to sponsor other pageants such as the Miss Tourism Zimbabwe?
Does this mean 200 000 people living with hearing impairments are not appreciated in Zimbabwe?
Is this country, which always preaches about mainstreaming gender and disabilities issues, serious about the emancipation of the girl child?
Social commentator, Collins Sandu, says it is disappointing to note that Miss Deaf Zimbabwe is not getting the same attention and support as Miss Tourism Africa and as such this impedes the girl child’s equal participation in political, economic and social activities in society.
Sandu adds that shunning events that promote the rights of persons with disabilities such as Miss Deaf Zimbabwe not only shows that we are not ready to improve our arts or creative sectors, but we are also not serious about emancipating the girl child.
“We are creating inequalities within our societies by not supporting persons with disabilities and this discrimination is not due to the impairment of the girls and other members of the society, but to the inability of our country to eradicate physical, cultural and social barriers challenging persons with disabilities,” he says.
Gender activist, Anoziva Marindire, says paying $8.50 to Hukuimwe was not only a surprise and an affront, but a clear testimony that persons with disabilities are still the most disadvantaged and poorest people in the Zimbabwean society.
Marindire, who is also a journalist, says it is hard to believe that in this day and age, people still think that the deaf are not able of doing all things hearing people can.
“Miss Deaf Zimbabwe is an important event which shows that deaf girls can also fully participate in arts and cultural activities if they are given an enabling and equal chance,” she says.
“Conversely, paying $8.50 to the winner showed that the nation is not ready to support the plight of persons with disabilities, especially the girl child.”
As for arts practitioner and human rights defender, Best Masinire, the nation always preaches about mainstreaming disability issues as well as the emancipation of the girl child, but citizens are doing totally the opposite.
Consequently, he urges the government, citizens and other key stakeholders to join hands and improve care of persons with disabilities, in line with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which mandates that State parties must promote full and effective participation and inclusion in society.
Masinire also urges policymakers to restructure policies, practices and attitudes as well as take apart the socio-economic barriers that prevent full participation of persons with disabilities.
“Instead of focusing on persons with disabilities as passive objects of charitable acts, as was the case with Miss Deaf Zimbabwe pageant recently, society should make sure persons with disabilities participate in society, in education as well as in cultural life,” he adds.
Miss Deaf Zimbabwe, advices Barbra Nyangairi of the Zimbabwe Deaf Trust, needs to be mainstreamed in conventional entertainment and beauty shows so as to assist the deaf to achieve their full potential in addition to minimise the disadvantages suffered by them.
“The only thing a deaf person needs in the mainstream recreation and beauty shows are interpreters,” she says. “Nyle DiMarco, who holds the distinction of the first deaf man to contest and won America’s top model, had the support of interpreters as well as choreographers to help him with the moves. To be inclusive is therefore to ensure that the winners of deaf shows also participate in the mainstream social and economic programmes.”
Registered lawyer and researcher, Proceed Manatsa, also urges the government to promote and advance all languages used in Zimbabwe, including sign languages as an avenue of addressing the communication barriers that persons with disabilities are still facing in the country.
He also encourages the State and all its institutions to consider the specific requirements of persons with disabilities as one of the priorities in development plans.
“This appears to be a bold step forward in attempting to alleviate poverty among persons with disabilities in Zimbabwe, as well as to ensure their inclusion and participation in society,” Manatsa adds.