Christina Peta obtains PhD in Disability Studies, a first for Zimbabwe

19 Aug 2016 - 09:45
Article courtesy of The Sunday Mail Newspaper in Zimbabwe


Dr Christine Peta is a public health care practitioner who scored a first by becoming the first Zimbabwean to obtain a PhD in Disability Studies and the third person (at a tie with Victor John McKinney), to obtain such a degree from Africa, in the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Dr Peta acquired her PhD under the supervision of Dr Judith McKenzie, Professor Harsha Kathard and Dr Adelene Africa; she was also supported by Professor Theresa Lorenzo. Dr Peta raised the flag of Zimbabwe high by producing what was rated by her external examiners as an “excellent PhD thesis with sophisticated analytical engagement”. The thesis explored the sexual and reproductive health of disabled women in Zimbabwe, after gaining ethical approval from the University of Cape Town and the Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe. Dr Peta has made a significant contribution to the international body of knowledge by contributing theoretical frameworks that are rooted in the African context and which further public health care and disability studies in Africa. She speaks to The Sunday Mail correspondent:

Q :How did you become interested in the field of Disability Studies?

A: I was born and raised in Zimbabwe by my parents who were always ready to welcome into our small home both disabled and non-disabled members of our extended family in spite of our meagre resources: my father, a then devoted clothing factory tailor and my mother a hard-working innovative housewife who equally ran our rural and urban homes to the utmost of her ability. A basic education and employment saw me escaping my underprivileged status in the mid-years of my early adult life. My later employment in the international development sector earned me some travel to parts of the USA, Europe and other countries in Southern Africa, thereby opening doors of exposure and opportunity for me. However, on reflection, I realise that my shift to a middle class socio-economic position has not obliterated the prints of my humble beginnings; my heart therefore lies with contributing towards making positive individual and societal change, with a particular focus on those who live in the zone of my roots; the zone of invisibility, silence and the margins.

Q: How do you intend to address challenges faced by people with disabilities in Zimbabwe?

A: I start by acknowledging that among other efforts, on 23 September, 2013; Zimbabwe made great strides towards recognising the rights of disabled people by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, (CRPD) (United Nations, 2008) and its Optional Protocol. In addition, the crafting and enacting of the new Zimbabwe constitution which came into force in various stages in 2013 meant significant advancement towards expanding disability rights in the country (Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013). Riding on such policy level advancement, I intend to complement government efforts by partnering with like-minded individuals and institutions, to contribute towards addressing challenges faced by disabled people in Zimbabwe. I therefore urge all citizens of Zimbabwe to seek to make a positive difference in the lives of those who live with disability particularly within families and communities and across all sectors. The reality is that whilst people with disabilities may face challenges that are confronted by every other citizen, their situation is further complicated by their unique needs that are related to disability, in ways that I hope to unpack in future publications.

I invite individuals and institutions that share the same ideologies as mine, to partner with me in further facilitating the opening up of vibrant and meaningful discussions about disability issues. Such an approach enables an appropriate understanding of the subject, which may culminate in citizens realising that it may not be prudent to wait for the Government to design and implement all intervention programs, but whoever you are and with whatever you have and wherever you are, you can follow the example of Jairos Jiri and make a difference in the lives of those who are in need because of disability within your family, community, church etc. I reflect on the narrative of the late Jairos Jiri, who arrived in Bulawayo in the 1940s from his rural home in Bikita where he had been tending goats and;

“He found a job in a bottle store in Bulawayo, but .…when disabled beggars came to the shop, he used (his) bicycle with its large carrier to take them to hospital…Those whom the hospital could not treat, particularly blind people, he took home to his two roomed house in a township. He had no finances other than his wages, but built a shack behind his house, where he got a friend to teach blind people to make baskets….He persuaded a shoe-maker to give instruction in shoe repairs to the growing crowd of disabled people who came daily to his little house. People thought he was mad…” (Coleridge 1993, p.136).

Borrowing some tenets from the above approach and by facilitating an initiative which further raises awareness of disability issues and seeking to equip individuals, families and communities with knowledge on the subject, I believe that I will be able to encourage citizens to develop their own community level intervention strategies. By so doing, a certain level of assistance that can be given to those who may be in need due to disability may be developed. Whilst financial challenges may be a reality, a knowledgeable society may initiate community services that reduce the negative impact of disability, resulting in disabled people securing their well-being in most facets of life.

Q: How do you see your work as contributing to broader social change?

A: My work seeks to nurture societies into achieving the full and equal participation and contribution of disabled people in all aspects of life. The uniqueness of my work lies in the fact that it does not chant a disability discourse which is underpinned by purely Western ideologies, an approach which reduces traditional approaches to mere “cultural beliefs”, which are not taken seriously in international disability theory and practice, to the detriment of the well-being of disabled people in non-Western societies.

Whilst my work draws on the definition of disability as articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), (United Nations 2008), such work also seeks to pay adequate attention to the indigenous belief systems of the African people, which link disability with among other things the breaking of traditional taboos, spirits and traditional healers. By taking such an approach, I do not mean to discourage international cooperation or to say that all African cultural belief systems are beneficial to local disabled people.

But I believe that different societies have different ways of understanding disability and unless such ways are interpreted with empathy and are clearly understood, it may be difficult for the conditions of disabled people in non-Western societies to be improved.

I therefore call upon practitioners and scholars to guard against undermining indigenous ways of understanding disability or to dismiss traditional knowledge as mere superstition or illogical thinking but to seriously engage difference along the axes of among other attributes; class, gender, poverty, culture and nationality and to foster an inter-cultural exchange which is likely to result in broad and positive societal change.

Q: What are your long-term professional plans and what would you like your ultimate contribution to be?

A: Considering that disabled people form one of the most marginalised minority groups in the world, I dream of a day when disability is effortlessly or naturally made an integral part of all development frameworks, agendas and processes across all sectors.

I am passionate about leading an initiative for inter-agency cooperation where public and private sector institutions, development agencies, civil society, media, health, law enforcers, educators, social and medical workers, caregivers, chiefs and researchers, among others, work together to come up with interventions that ensure a total inclusion of disabled people in all facets of life.

I am therefore committed to building mutual and sustainable engagements with like-minded people and institutions to collectively address the concerns of disabled people, thereby bringing such issues from the periphery of society to the fore.

Dr Christine Peta, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town. E-mail:

Read the original article in The Sunday Mail