Hello everyone and welcome to this podcast, Pamoja: On the Wings of Hope. Pamoja is a Swahili word which means together and here we say: “hope is our greatest currency and we would allow no one to steal it from us. This weekly podcast is brought to you by your host Abraham Mateta, also known as Mukoma A. Enjoy!
Greetings everyone and welcome to this podcast Pamoja on the Wings of Hope. My name is Abraham Mateta or Mukoma A. Mukoma A is a name that I got in the trenches and one day we will talk about where the trenches are. This podcast is about stories of hope and change. In this podcast we will talk about people who have had to undergo serious tests and came out with serious testimonies. In this program, we will talk about people who have been in serious mess and came out with serious messages. For today, I will basically be introducing myself but before I do that, I need to let you know that this program will be running weekly and make sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
So I now move on to talk about myself and my disadvantage in this regard is that I’m trying to unpack my forty years of existence in less than 30 minutes. In that regard, I might emphasise on things that you might not be interested in and gloss over certain things that you may be interested in. If that happens, feel free to get in touch with me on my contact details that I will give you towards the end of this podcast.
So my identity documents state that I was actually born in Zimbabwe, in a certain district called Hurungwe and in the Chiefdom of Nematombo and in Mateta Village. So I am also reliably informed that before turning two, I suffered from an ailment which eventually led to my loss of sight. So, I grew up for the greater part of my life being a person who is blind. I usually like to write on my website and social media platforms about my interesting and thought-provoking experiences under the title: “My blind Life in a Sighted World”.
I can say losing sight at an early age was fortunate. Yes, fortunate in the sense that I didn’t have to deal or struggle with the issues of acceptance of my condition. This was also coupled with the fact that although my parents tried various things to get me to have my sight back, I never faced any discrimination at home from my parents and sibblings. my mother had something interesting to say about how I grew up. Her supposition was that I was a naughty child. Lets hear her speak through an interpreter.….
“I am Abraham Mateta’s mother. I looked after this child and I encourage fellow mothers with such children to look after such children and take them to school with love and dedication. These children can be difficult when they are young but they just require patience. Because he would be naughty. He would be mischievous to the extent of climbing a tree and would find it difficult to come down. As a parent, you have to show care and help him climb down without hurling insults.
Although Fildah, my mother and Clement my father were simple people with little education, they made a decision that I should get some education. In order for you to appreciate this, a little background will be important. My mother only went as far as Standard 2 which could be equated to grade 4. She told me that at some point, when she was growing up and when she had left school, she and her elder sister would go for work in the maize fields to get money to pay school fees for uncle Johanne their younger brother because they believed that boy children were the ones who should be educated and it was not important to educate girl children.
My father on the other hand, did not go far with school although he might have gone slightly further than my mother but one thing that I can say is that when he was drunk, he used to sustain meaningful conversations in correct English. It’s a shame that I have never spoken to him in English when he is sober and he has fortunately or unfortunately quit alcohol. He says it’s fortunate because he says it’s one of the greatest things he has ever done. He is now eighty-three. At the height of his career, my father was a foreman at the Department of roads in the ministry of transport in Zimbabwe.
The decision to send me to school and sending me to school was a real blessing which gave me a break through and helped me to go beyond where my siblings and all the others in my neighbourhood could reach. However, it came with a huge emotional cost especially to myself and my mother because it meant I had to go far from home because there was no school which could take care of blind learners near our home. Again, speaking through an interpreter, my mother….
“During the first days, I was greatly worried. When he was taken to school, when when seeing them off at the bus stop, I would remain crying.
. My first school was called Copota school for the Blind and it was based in Masvingo. I was there for one term and I was transferred to another school which was a bit nearer home , more precisely, in the same province with my home area. It was called Jairos Jiri school for the blind and it was based in the town of Kadoma. When I was in grade 3, I was placed in what used to be called “an integrated system of education”. This is how the system worked: I would use the Jairos jiri school for the blind as a residential home and would go to learn at a school in the neighbourhood which was about two kilometres away. At that school, known as Kuredza government Primary School, I was learning with sighted learners. This was the beginning of a useful social experience for me because I gained skills of making friends and understanding how to negotiate my difference while positively contributing to my community. During the time, I also became a poet and would do social commentary through poetry. When I was in Grade six for example , I wrote, under the guidance of one teacher called Mr. Mapepa, a poem on the experiences of persons with disabilities from childhood to adulthood. I recited the poem at a conference on Disability and Family planning which had been organised by the National Association of Societies for the care of the handicapped (NASCOH) and other players in health, disability and family planning. The poem was broadcast on both radio and TV and I almost became a celebrity hey!
In grade 7, I recited another poem encouraging cleanliness in the town. During those days, the town of Kadoma used to be a very dirty town so there was a campaign that was organised by an organisation called YMCA and the town council to encourage cleanliness. Speaking after reciting my poem, the mayor expressed perplexity at how a blind child like me had been able to vividly capture the filth of the town and come up with what the mayor thought were brilliant solutions. The mayor concluded his observations by indicating that it showed that the development of the town required that all people regardless of their disabilities should be included.
I believe I was fortunate to be academically gifted but I need to indicate that there was another issue which used to put pressure on me. We were always made to understand that our options were limited and that there were certain menial jobs which our sighted counterparts would take if push comes to shove which we would not. I was also nurtured both at home and school to never ever consider begging as an option and this was coupled with my sense of pride which I had acquired at an early age.
Sweet life! Sweet life! Sweet life!
Some say life is not a bed of roses,
Granted but it’s also not a thicket of thorns and thistles:
Others say life is what you make it:
But here we say, life is sweeter when it is what we together make it.
Sweet life! Sweet life! Sweet life!
After completing my primary school and passing with flying colours, I went for my secondary school in a different region called Mathebeleland. I found myself learning at one of the best schools not only in the region but in the country. That school is called John Tallach Secondary school. It was being run by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. At that school, I remember with pride the culture of the institution and how reading and passing were valued. However, I was now learning with children of affluent people and this had somewhat an effect on me. Part of it is that it forced me to concentrate more on my books but there was something that happened to me socially. Tea was provided every day by the school but the drinking of tea was associated with low class. I quickly learnt that whatever that meant, I had no business pretending that I would fit in the so-called high class so together with those who thought like me who were very few as well as day scholars who were called day boarders, I would drink my tea. I acquired for myself a big mug which we nicknamed, “the God forgive me cup”. For those who are familiar with the writings of Thomas Hardy, far From the Madding Crowd in particular, there is a character there who drinks beer in a big cup called “the God forgive me cup” so that’s where I took it from. So, up to now, you might want to know dear listner that I love my tea. In fact I consider tea my first girlfriend One other advantage that came with me learning at John Tallach Secondary School was that I learnt to speak Ndebele which means that I can speak three languages and these are: Shona, Ndebele and English and I am in the process of learning Kiswahili. Please wish me luck.
Hello! My name is Chioniso Makiyi and I am a lady from Harare Zimbabwe! Lets continue to fly on the wings of hope with Abraham Mateta.
After completing Ordinary level and passing , I proceeded to the midlands province at a school called Lower Gweru Adventist High School and there I was to do two years of my Advanced level of education. There I was taking History Divinity and Literature as subjects. I gained the nickname “the attorney general” because I had shown tendencies of wanting to go and pursue legal studies and work in the legal profession. My school mates and members of the community as well as the church were very helpful in a way that I cannot even begin to quantify or qualify. During that time, I was a bit overwhelmed because for the first time, I found myself being the only blind learner in my stream. So, it placed a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. Emotionally, I would just feel like I was representing a lot of blind people so I was very careful with how I would do things. During those days, it’s also interesting to note that technology was not as ubiquitous as it is now so I relied on the assistance of fellow learners particularly to read. They would read for me books and sometimes I would take notes other times I would record on cassette especially novels but in most cases I would just listen and I had a lot of faith that I was grasping and in the process was developing a somewhat reprographic memory if you want. So even up to now, if I’m given very simple presentations, I can just do them off the cuff because of that skill that we got during our days where we lacked.
I wrote my final exams with so much anticipation and unfortunately, when results came in February, mine were missing. I had written my exams in Braille. I don’t know at what point did my scripts disappear in the system but my story was like that of many other blind people who learnt during my time. I count myself very fortunate because there would be extreme cases where the scripts would never be found and the people would never get any result. So, I got mine in June when others had got theirs in February. At that time, people were already receiving admission letters from the university. I could not immediately find a place to study law. By that time, Zimbabwe had only one law school at the University of Zimbabwe. I was admitted to do bachelor of Arts therefore and I was given Religious Studies English and French. When I went to register at the French Department, I was told by one of the lecturers that the way they were teaching French was so visual that it would be difficult for me to catch up. I was therefore, given an option to try and get something else to do instead. I can now confidently confirm, having interacted with other blind people who have learnt French at university level that there is nothing so visual about the learning of French that can make a blind learner fail to adequately master and grasp the language. However, due to reasons I will not bother you with, I never argued for a minute with the lecturer for I also had zero interest in the learning of the subject so, I went and got two courses from the department of Politics and Administrative Studies. I was glad there they welcomed me with two hands. Therefore, at first I was at university doing two courses in Political science as well as English and Religious studies and I learnt for close to two months. However, although I was actively participating in my lessons, I increasingly felt disinterested and started pushing for change of program and through another process whose description might require its own podcast, I finally succeeded and crossed over to the law school .
I always meet some of those who I learnt with at the law school and those who have interacted with them and I hear that they say that I was a very intelligent student. One thing which some may not know however, is that I was only as good because of those class mates of mine. I have always bragged that I had one of the most cooperating classes especially when I was at the law school. I have seen discrimination in practice but at the law school, I never suffered any such not even for a second. My class mates were ready to read for me, take me to some places which we needed to go to especially given that Harare by then had become difficult to navigate for a blind person and they would also readily discuss with me various topics. My experience at the law school further sharpened my social skills and strengthens my belief in the power of humanity.
Having obtained a Bachellor of Law honours degree, I applied for a job in the Government of Zimbabwe, ministry of justice. I got shortlisted for an interview and subsequently, got the job. Unfortunately, it had to take me three solid months before I was allowed to start the job. I have written about this elsewhere, in the Routledge Handbook on Disability in Southern Africa which was edited by Professor tsitsi chataika under the title: “My Blind Life in a sighted World: A Security Guard who Turned a Lawyer into a Disability Activist”. I think, you might want to read that. It’s a 2019 publication
Anywhere, I started working in January 2008 in the office of the Ombudzman or Public Protector. I worked there as a law officer and my duties included carrying out research, listening to complaints, drafting communications with government departments and basically reconciling the government and the governed and averting possible litigation.
in September 2009, I left my work in government to join the civic society, going into full time disability work and working with an organisation called the Zimbabwe national League of the Blind. This is actually, the oldest member organisation of blind and partially sighted people in Zimbabwe and it was registered in 1973. I worked at this organisation for five years overseeing and implementing a program which dealt with the inclusion of persons with disabilities in governance systems. What was enriching in my job was that I was working with persons with various forms of impairments and not only blind and partially sighted people. I went into the civic society at a time when Zimbabwe was in the process of coming up with a new constitution. I did my part to encourage and mobilise persons with disabilities to participate in the consultative processes. I actually presented in the second all stakeholders conference on behalf of the group which looked at disability. I know that those who know me know that the result we got is somewhat disappointing but Ive always encouraged that those in disability work in Zimbabwe, notwithstanding how badly the constitution has captured some of the issues, must make lemonade out of the lemon.
In 2014, I got an Open Society Foundations scholarship and left for the United Kingdom to undertake studies in a masters in International and European Human Rights Law. I was focusing mainly on Disability and the United Nations Convention on the rights of Persons with disabilities. In England, I was pleasantly surprised how sharp I was but I think it’s because I never had to worry about reading material because everything was available on soft copy and for those books that were not readily available, there was a transcription centre at the University of Leeds where I was studying which would make those books and articles readily accessible. I successfully completed my studies in 2015 and the major highlight was that I passed my dissertation with a distinction and the overall degree class was with a merit.
After that, I decided to go back to Zimbabwe. Remember, I had trained as a lawyer but I had never gone into court to practice. This was due to other reasons that I need not worry you with. But in 2016 in May, that is nine years after finishing at the law school, I got registered and joined private practice.
This is Raynor, a registered lawyer in Kenya, based in Nairobi, continue listening to Pamoja on the Wings of Hope with Abraham Mateta.
I was taken on board at a lawfirm called Muvingi and Mugadza where I worked for close to three years. I did gain a lot of valuable experiences at that law firm but My story of legal practice can form another podcast episode. However, suffice it to say that private practice for a person with a visual impairment like me in a country with an economy like Zimbabwe was not child’s play. This was so because, operating there was difficult. No one really deals with the cost of disability. There are no tax incentives for employers of persons with disabilities and although the government provides some money For the payment of of assistants in the public sector or in the civil service, there is no similar provision in the private sector. When you get to work, you are expected to meet the target because this is private practice. People are looking for money. You get the same remuneration with the rest of the people with your experience. Yet there is an extra cost that you incur. If you are a person like me in a country like Zimbabwe you would obviously need an assistant and I got such and unfortunately, I was solely responsible taking care of the assistant.
In 2017, I applied for the Mandela-Washington Fellowship and I was successful. In June I went to Rutgers university in New Jersey where I studied Civic Leadership for six weeks. There I met some of the most wonderful people in my life. Some of the networks remain useful today. In addition to giving me the leadership and negotiating skills, the course also helped me to recalibrate my worth.
In 2019, I moved to another law firm, MC Mukome Legal practitioners where I worked until early 2021. I still hold my practicing certificate under the same law firm. In 2020, as you may know, Covid 19 disrupted all normal activities and I was so much scared that I would not make it. However, I was able to be sustained by disability consultancy work and I always to remain grateful to those people who gave me disability consultancy work to do. This is not to say I got the work because there were corners that were cut but but just to say, they could have chosen anyone else. Another thing that sustained me was that I became more of a regular appearance in the Bails Court. During that time, I think that was the only court that was working. There was a point at which I became a regular feature there and you would find me almost on a daily basis saying: “my lord, I pray that my client be granted bail with conditions as per the draft order. So that was how I was able to sustain myself during the Covid era..
Towards the end of 2020, I saw a job advert by the African Union of the Blind which was looking for a human rights and Advocacy officer. I told myself that this was my kind of job so I applied. I got shortlisted for an interview which was done online and was gruelling. I was fried and roasted in the interview but finally got the job. I consequently, moved to Kenya in March 2021. At the time of recording, I’ve now spent two years hear in Kenya and I am recording this in my bedroom here in Nairobi which doubles as my studio.
The African Union Of the Blind not to be mistaken for the African Union is an organisation which was formed to champion the interests and rights of blind and partially sighted people in Africa. It is thus, an intercontinental umbrella organisation of organisations of blind and partially sighted people in Africa. The Zimbabwe national League of the Blind which I talked about earlier on which I was saying I worked fore before, is a member organisation. Of course, when people mistake the African Union of the Blind for the African Union it is understandable because the African Union of the blind was formed in 1987 through a resolution of the then OAU and now AU. The relationship is there and the organisation has an observer status with the AU. The organisation has a semi-consulate status with the republic of Kenya and the people working here are considered diplomats. My work here includes assisting the organisation with all issues to do with rights including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Africa Disability Protocol.
I have also been involved in other things including being a member of the Zimbabwe youth council board for two terms. I was also a member of the council of the Law Society of Zimbabwe. I championed inclusivity as well as performing other duties which councillors would do. I am currently the secretary to the Lawyers with Disabilities Association Zimbabwe Trust which is an organisation we founded to improve the working conditions of of lawyers with disabilities but also provide access to justice for persons with disabilities in general.
I generally like music and at some point, I did a music project, a music album but I wasn’t able to market it because of lack of time but if I get time again this year or if the push continues in my mind, I am looking forward to working on another project and this time I think I will find a way of marketing it.
I am a Christian. I believe in the gospel of the cross. I believe that love makes the world a safer place. I also recall that my reading skills were perfected by reading Christian literature which we would get from Christian organisations in the USA and UK such as the Lutheran Braille Workers, Christian Record and Torch Trust for the Blind to mention just a few. Those organisations would send us Braille magazines, Christian Literature and bibles.
My hobbies also include learning about current affairs, listening to podcasts… Yes I listen to others. I am not a party freak but I am a sociable person notwithstanding. I like making new friends and discovering new areas of interest. I have a website where I blog in addition to this podcast. It’s abmateta.com I have a website where I blog in addition to this podcast and its abmateta.com.
My word of encouragement to everyone is that we are in this world for a purpose. Never kill your hope and live life to the fullest so you can fulfil your purpose for which you were put in this world. Be a good steward. Take care of the talents that you have, the environment and the responsibilities placed upon you.
I make a promise here that I will endeavour to bring great issues in this podcast. I know that there are some cases where great issues come from people who are thought to be small and then such people are ignored. In this platform, I promise to give a voice even to those people thought to be small but with great issues.
That does it for this episode of the podcast. Thank you so much for listening. I know that there are voices you might have wanted to hear like my family. Don’t worry. We will feature those voices maybe some other time. For today, I leave you listening to a track from that album I was talking abou. The album is called “project more love” and the track is entitled Only Sugar in My Tea