A day in the life of a person living with disability

With lush green and well-maintained lawns, a neatly-groomed bus terminus and a leafy hillside in its background, it presented a visually striking scene.

MEREKI shopping centre’s bus terminus in Warren Park D, about 10 kilometres north of Harare’s central business district, was once vibrant and an epic scene.

With lush green and well-maintained lawns, a neatly-groomed bus terminus and a leafy hillside in its background, it presented a visually striking scene.

Today, the area is cluttered with abandoned vehicles and reeks of waste, a stark contrast to its former self.

The bus terminus now resembles a run-down shack and the lush hillside vegetation is being destroyed by sand poachers.

The hills, ravaged daily by careless excavation, cry out for rescue with their biodiversity at risk.

This environmental degradation distresses locals, including 51-year-old cobbler Asima Kapill, popularly known in the area as Banda.

Seated on a dilapidated chair against a fading Harare City Council stall, he skilfully breathes a new lease of life on tired shoes.

“I arrived in Warren Park D in 1996 and my workspace was as neat as a well-maintained office,” he said.

“Now, it has all changed, leaving me wondering what went wrong. I reflect on my personal journey than the environmental decline here.

“I once had control over my destiny, vibrant like the former green hills, but life took unexpected turns, leading to my current situation.”

During the interview, Kapill frequently changed his sitting position because of discomfort from his left prosthetic leg.

Prosthetic legs are medical devices designed to  replace limbs often used by people who would have lost a leg due to injury, illness or congenital conditions.

A prosthetic leg restores the function and appearance of a natural leg, enabling walking, running and other activities carried out by able-bodied people.

Kapill emotionally recounts his journey to living with a disability and the numerous challenges he and others in similar situations face.

Born in 1971 at the then New Market Farm, otherwise known as Makoromokwa Farm in Zvimba, Mashonaland West province, Kapill had an abnormal childhood.

“I could not walk due to bent legs, a condition that distressed my parents. They never gave up on me, a kindness I deeply appreciate, unlike many parents who neglect their disabled children,” he said.

Prominent musician Talent (Chipo) Muchegwa’s father neglected her on the very day she was born.

In a separate incident, one Michael Moyo abandoned his wife Viola Mashaire and their three daughters, blaming Viola for giving birth to two children with Osteogenesis Imperfecta.

This rare genetic disorder causes brittle bones that break easily.

“He refused to get them birth certificates, not wanting his name linked with disability and clearly said he does not love them,” said Mashaire.

Her daughter Anisha added: “We want our father to know we are capable like other children. Despite his choices, we still care and wish to talk to him.”

However, Kapill's parents’ determination paid off, securing funds for surgery that enabled him to walk normally.

“I was so excited.  For the first time in a long time, I felt appreciated by peers who previously looked down on me. Life had smiled on me and I was grateful,” he said.

For Kapill, the surgery seemed to clear the dark cloud from his youth, but this relief was short-lived.

At 21, while living in Bindura, he was diagnosed with cancer in his right small toe, a devastating blow at an age when he felt invincible.

Kapill explained how he would question why this happened to him and what would happen next.

“I was just stepping into adulthood and suddenly, I was facing something as scary as cancer. The fear of dying started to haunt me day and night,” he said.

“I would lie awake, staring at the ceiling, feeling this heavy dread in my chest. Every pain in my toe was a constant, sharp reminder of what was happening inside me. It was not just the physical hurt; my heart was aching too.”

He felt lost as he meditated on the possibilities he might miss.

The same situation befell 31-year-old Tanyaradzwa Veremu from Marondera, who lost his left leg in a road traffic accident at 20 and had to go through similar experiences.

“The mix of physical pain and the worry about my future was overwhelming,” he told NewsDay.

“It felt like my whole world was crashing down and I was too young to know how to handle it. It is a hard, lonely road and sometimes, I felt like I was walking it all by myself.”

People often overlook the mental anguish faced by people living with disabilities, focusing only on their physical condition.

Psychologist Ivy Mukombachoto acknowledged that people living with disabilities face mental anguish.

“It is scary and unfair. You start to see that life can be really fragile. This is not just about getting sick; it feels like all your dreams and plans are slipping away,” said Mukombachoto.

“You thought you had so much time, but now everything is uncertain. It's a big shock and makes you feel really sad like a heavy weight is on your heart.”

For Kapill, amputation below the knee was the only option for survival, as advised by Doctor Vela who attended to him.

He then turned to cobbling, a skill he was taught by his maternal uncle, to make a living.

While it is not lucrative, it is necessary to support his family.

Kapill's volunteer work at Harare City Council (2013-2018) didn't lead to employment.

Like many with disabilities, he survives on low-paying jobs, often exploited by others.

To address this, he founded the Forget Me Not Trust to find opportunities for disabled individuals.

“The plan is to work with the government and various stakeholders in creating opportunities for my friends so that the cancer of begging can be treated. We can pay for our expenses without begging anyone,” he said.

His prosthetic leg broke and the clutches he is using are broken.

As he looks at the once near-perfect Mereki shopping centre, he cannot help but think of how his life changed from a life full of promise to living with a disability.

But he has accepted his situation and is determined to make the best out of it.

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