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Zimbabwean society has not yet accepted disability
National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH)
Extracted from Disability Update Nov 1-7, 2006
November 02, 2006

It’s not all gloom and doom in the disability world. Meeting Benhilda Marume, better known as the trend-setting Tamara of Studio 263 fame, one is struck by her zest for life, her keen intelligence, her keen and quick wit, her quick and engaging smile, and her boundless energy. Her engaging manner masks a deep-seated problem: her dissatisfaction with the Zimbabwean culture for failing to come to terms with the reality of disability, for stigmatising it as a curse, and for discriminating blatantly against people with disabilities with relative impunity.

‘Society’s attitudes towards people with disabilities have to change. Stigmatisation of people with disabilities is still rife. We would like to live normally but our environments are not conducive,’ lamented the actress, who added that her dream was to see a positive minded Zimbabwean society, in which people were not discriminated against on the grounds of disability. She recited an incident where she wanted to board a kombi but was told bluntly by the driver that the kombi was not meant for people with disabilities.

Born 24 years ago in Bulawayo, the combative actress, who is the Executive Chairperson of Disabled Women Support Organisation, an organisation whose main focus is to physically and economically empower women and girls with disabilities, grew up in Masvingo where she did her primary and secondary education. Growing up able-bodied, she had absolutely no idea of what fate had in store for her. She was 17 when, coming from a school trip with her sister, Sharon Marume, who was also a teacher at the school, she was involved in the fateful accident. The resultant damage to her spine meant that she would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

How did she emerge from the depths of despair to become a celebrated actress on Studio 263 and a role model not only for people with disabilities but for the generality of Zimbabwean youth? Benhilda picks up the story: "I had gone to attend ‘This is Life’ show which focused on the social problems of AIDS and people with disabilities. After the show, I conversed with the Director, Godwin Mawuru. I commended them for doing a good job but indicated to them that they were somehow missing the point by leaving out the aspect of disability. They then asked me to put my ideas on paper and give them to Aaron Chiunduramoyo, the creator of Studio 263. After that, they took me on board".

It is a measure of her self confidence and determination to succeed against all odds that Benhilda, who at that time had absolutely no prior acting experience, went on to become an icon on the screen, giving polished performances episode after episode and keeping thousands of viewers riveted to the screen with each performance.

Thankfully, the actress never encountered any difficulties with the crew she works with at Studio 263. Everyone, she said, was very supportive and eager to help and also to learn. She singled out Tinopona Katsande (Joyce in the soap) and Charity Dlodlo (mai Madziva) as being especially supportive. These were the people that she talked to most and shared experiences with.

But, what motivated her to join the soap? ‘I wanted do demystify and bring out the life of people with disabilities into the open. I wanted to bring out the fact that people with disabilities can live independently and that there is nothing abnormal about us. We can lead normal lives, just like everyone else.’ She said.

The wish by people with disabilities to be viewed as normal, ordinary people who can contribute meaningfully and positively to the development of the country is an issue that is at the centre of the human rights perspective on disability. Central to the human rights perspective on disability is the concept of inclusion, which, in fine, involves a process of social change, so that society views people with disabilities as normal, ordinary people and not as welfare cases, and the putting into place of strategies for the implementation of disability and non-discriminatory policies that result in people with disabilities being given the same opportunities and encouragement to develop and grow into the kind of person they choose.

Benhilda’s rise to fame and perseverance in the face of adversity has endeared her to Zimbabweans from all walks of life and rekindled hope that the veil of ignorance, fear and prejudice, through which society views people with disabilities, will ultimately be removed. ‘To tell the truth, the public loves me because they were probably not expecting such an attitude from a person with a disability. I have become a role model to both able bodied people and people with disabilities. People now realize that it is possible to rise to the occasion and get involved in situations that they thought were beyond their reach’.

Benhilda is the last of six children. She has very supportive parents who have enabled her to weather the storm of societal prejudice and indifference. Her mother is a nurse at Ruwa Rehabilitation Centre while her father is a pensioner who used to work in the health sector.

The actress, who is also a marketing student, says she draws inspiration from her mother, and also from Gladys Charowa, the Executive Director of the Disabled Women Support Organisation, and her friend Rejoice Timire: ‘They taught me how to fight, how to be resilient and that, whatever situation you come across, you can overcome’. She also pays tribute to her sisters Sharon, Caroline, and Irene and her two brothers Derek and Freddy and also ‘my little nephews who fight with me for the use of my wheelchair’.

Her most memorable experience was when after succumbing to amnesia and forgetting her mother after sliding into a comma, she then remembered her after slipping out of yet another coma. ‘When I slipped out of it, the first person I saw was my mother on my bedside. I immediately remembered her’. On the downside, she cites her worst experience as her failure to hold a relationship. ‘I feel our Zimbabwean culture hasn’t accepted disability because they feel it is a curse so every time I think I am in a relationship and it’s getting serious, I am quick to jump out of it,’ she adds, with a hint of sadness.

Asked about her aspirations, she explains wistfully: ‘My aspiration is to take my career to a higher level and get involved in movies and soapies like Generations, just to prove the point that us people with physical disabilities are, in fact, able. I would also love to start my own family, have a good job, drive my own car and live independently with my friend Gadzai Rejoice who is also wheelchair bound’.

The quintessential actress, whose motto is ‘Despite my disability I will fly high’, lists reading, singing, dancing, talking (I love talking. It’s a way of getting rid of stress), tennis and ….basking in the sun.

For Benhilda, the sky is indeed the limit!

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