Advocate Abraham Mateta, “a legal practitioner by profession and a disability rights activist by calling” on the 24th of December penned a eulogy for the departed Foster Dongozi who succumbed to COVID-19 on 23 December. We present his eulogy below.
Remembering Foster Dongozi
Yesterday (23 December 2020), I learnt with sadness of the passing on of Mr Foster Dongozi who was the Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. It is my conviction that a media practitioner answering to his call properly must be driven by the passion for a positive transformation of the society and I got that conviction from interacting and working with Foster. I personally have fond memories of the great media giant who has fallen asleep.
In early 2013, after reading the draft constitution prepared by the select Parliamentary Committee (COPAC), I STRONGLY FELT that the sections on disability not only lacked people-driven content but were actually framed using a welfarist approach and therefore disempowering. What was particularly aching was the insistence on the resource caveat in all issues on disability. Consequently, I was able to persuade Mr Ishamael Zhou who was my boss then at the Zimbabwe National League of the Blind in Bulawayo that at my own personal expense and trouble, I wished to be given some off days if not weeks to go and launch a fight for disability sections which were disability rights based in the constitution.
When I arrived in Harare, although a number of people indicated that they understood where I was coming from in my quest for rights-based disability content in the constitution, they told me in no uncertain terms that it was just not politically fashionable to suggest that there was something fundamentally wrong with the constitution. After all, the leaders of the two formations of MDC and ZANU PF were unanimous in touting the 2013 constitution as the best thing ever to happen to Zimbabwe. Eventually, I got support from my two blind compatriots, Mr Kudzai Shava and Mr Masimba Kuchera. Together we drafted a concept note that we would be using to engage stakeholders on the disability content in the constitution. One day when I manage, I will tell you, dear reader, the story of offices that I went into and lessons that we learnt during that exercise.
For purposes of this short write up, we managed to persuade Mr Ernest Mudzengi of the Media Centre to arrange a press conference for us. In that conference, the speakers were Mr Masimba Kuchera, Mr Kudzai Shava, another lady with a physical impairment called Yeukai who was the then Miss Disability Zimbabwe and myself. It was at that conference that I first met Foster and he was quite moved by our point of view. He made sure to give us access to other media for a where the draft constitution was being discussed. The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists organised two such conferences, one in Bulawayo and another in Harare where I was invited to give a disability rights perspective to the draft constitution. I had the opportunity of sharing the platform with other erudite presenters such as advocate Chris Mhike, Professor Lovemore Madhuku, Mr Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu, Mr Kucaca Phulu and yes Comrade Jabulani Sibanda. Although the politicians did not listen to the voice of reason and caution that we gave, I am glad that through the skilled intervention and networks of Foster, media houses both independent and state were able to amplify our little voice and As it currently stands, history records it that there were some people with disabilities who indicated that the major sections on disability in the constitution were not drafted following the rights-based approach and that such people were not listened to across political divide.
Foster was very dependable when it came to disability issues and he knew the journalists who were passionate about it. I will remember those interesting interactions we had, those long funny calls and how he always respected me and reminded me how brilliant a lawyer he thought I was. In our last conversation, he had invited me to be a trustee for an organisation dealing with chronic conditions which he was setting up. As persons with disabilities, we have lost someone who understood the need for our voice. I personally have lost a friend and a big brother. Rest in power my brother.