Passport

Zimbabwe Hosted Paralympic Games, Then Refused to Pay the Disabled Officials Who Organized Them

Some disabled Zimbabweans are still unable to get home from a remote town because the government hasn't paid them for their work.

26 Oct 2000:  Elliot Mujaji of Zimbabwe (gold), Haichen Liang of China (silver) and Tim Matthews of Australia (bronze) in the Mens 100m T46 Final at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, Homebush Bay, Sydney, Australia. X DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Sean Garnsworthy/ALLSPORT
26 Oct 2000: Elliot Mujaji of Zimbabwe (gold), Haichen Liang of China (silver) and Tim Matthews of Australia (bronze) in the Mens 100m T46 Final at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, Homebush Bay, Sydney, Australia. X DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Sean Garnsworthy/ALLSPORT

It’s hard to imagine Zimbabwe’s economy getting much worse than it is right now. The country is in the middle of a total financial meltdown, and is so short on cash that banks have begun switching off ATMs and placing limits on how much money can be taken out at any given time.

But Zimbabwean civil servants are tired of government excuses for why they aren’t being paid for their work. So when a number of high-level ministers and government workers attended the country’s annual paralympic games in the town of Gwanda this week, the paralyzed organizers barricaded them into a stadium with wheelchairs and demanded paychecks.

The incident occurred Monday evening but was not reported in the state-run Herald newspaper until Wednesday, when it was referred to as a “hostage” situation. Several sports commissioners and Abigail Damasane, the minister for women and community affairs, were among those held for more than four hours before police intervened and calmed the protesters.

The some 40 government employees who helped detain the senior officials in the stadium were almost all physically disabled. They claimed the national Sports and Recreation Commission misused funds for the three-day sporting event by wining, dining, and staying in fancy hotels while their disabled colleagues were housed in school classrooms and denied their already meager per diem pay.

One of those organizers, who was not named, told the Herald that even the $40 they were originally promised as a stipend would not have covered their expenses, and that they “borrowed money to come here.”

As of Wednesday, many of them — unable to pay their way home — were still camped out in Gwanda, some 330 miles from the capital of Harare.

Photo credit: Sean Garnsworthy/ALLSPORT

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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