Beyond Masterton Cheshire Home Evictions: Shifting from Charity to Human Rights Based Approach


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By Byron Mutingwende

Leonard Cheshire Disability Zimbabwe (LCDZ) has hogged the limelight after evicting its long-time tenants from Masterton House, in a move widely interpreted as callous given the physical conditions of the victims. As an investigative journalist, I would like to divert a bit from just giving an account of events by delving into a more detailed analysis of issues as they relate to people with disability (PWDs).


LCDZ began operating in 1981 and is a member of the Leonard Cheshire Disability Global Alliance which operates in more than 50 countries. It endeavours to work with children and youths with disabilities in creating an enabling environment that offers them equal opportunities and choices in their communities through awareness, access, participation and inclusion programmes.

LCDZ seeks to facilitate the equalisation of opportunities for children and youths with disabilities and envisions a society in which every child and youth with a disability can enjoy his/her rights and has the opportunity to fulfil his/her potential.


Its mission is to enable children and youths with disabilities to improve their quality of life and to campaign for the removal of the barriers which hinder them.


The Masterton property is owned by the LCDZ Board of Trustees who have the mandate to give strategic direction to the organisation, provide an oversight role as well as acquire, own, manage and dispose of property under the organization. This extends to movable and immovable property. LCDZ had two immovable properties, that is, 188 Westwood Drive and 85 Baines Avenue. Both properties were bequeathed to the trust from well-wishers. Donations can come in cash and kind of which they need to be managed effectively if they are to benefit many generations, hence the establishment of a board of trustees. The board monitors the organisation’s adherence to all laws and regulations. The board adopts policies and procedures to create a culture of legal and ethical standards that guide every aspect of the organisation and established by-laws and policies for effective governance and fiscal oversight. The board manages the organisation’s “brand” and public trust. It enhances the perception of the organisation and maintains effective relations with the community it serves. The board actively promotes the organisation, its services, and its impact throughout the community. So was the LCDZ Board acting out of its mandate in evicting the tenants?

The questions to ask is, if one does not own a property but uses it, are there any lease documents to prove tenure-ship? We have been living in this accommodation for so many years- was it for free or we were paying rentals? If so, to who and how much? Was the money used for development of the property?


Property Use in Line with the Organization’s Strategic Focus

Articulation of the strategic focus of the organisation

The use of the said property shifts with the organisation’s strategic focus. Prior to 1998, LCDZ’s main goal was to create homes for PWDs. However, changes in the global disability trends necessitated a shift of focus to Community Based Rehabilitation. The focus was borne out of the prevailing disability focus as guided by Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. The term “equalisation of opportunities” means the process through which the various systems of society and the environment, such as services, activities, information and documentation, are made available to all, particularly to persons with disabilities. As persons with disabilities achieve equal rights, they should also have equal obligations. As those rights are being achieved, societies should raise their expectations of persons with disabilities. As part of the process of equal opportunities, provision should be made to assist persons with disabilities to assume their full responsibility as members of society.

The shift of LCDZ’s strategic focus in the new millennium was necessitated by the coming into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities whose purpose is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. For this to be fulfilled, one of the principles speak to Full and effective participation and inclusion in society. LCDZ realized that the inclusion cannot be achieved by keeping people in homes which are both discriminatory and exclusive. Is the home then really necessary considering costs of maintenance? Or should the use the property be reviewed in relation to current strategic focus of the organization?


Property Rights

This brings a special dimension of property Rights and proof of ownership. Respect of property rights attracts and promotes private sector investment which is the engine for economic growth. In order to attract investment, Zimbabwe should continue to uphold the sanctity of property rights. Both domestic and foreign investors find comfort in internationally acclaimed property rights. This brings about confidence in the country’s policies and security to investment. In order to attract investment, Zimbabwe should continue to uphold the sanctity of property rights. A property right is an exclusive authority possessed by an owner of property to consume, sell, rent, mortgage, and transfer and exchange their property. Any property needs owners and 85 Baines Avenue belongs to LCDZ under the oversight role of the Board of Trustees. LCDZ relies on donor funds who invest in its work and need the assurance of property ownership or tenure.


Failure to control ownership: tragedy of the commons

This section explores what happens if property becomes free for all

Did LCDZ as the legal owner of 85 Baines Avenue, have enough control to prevent tragedy of the commons? The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action. We want the maximum good per person; but what is good? The individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers.

The state of the property is a true reflection of Tragedy of the Commons. The property in question is in a state of disrepair, poor maintenance, dilapidated because the persons using it have no obligation towards it because to them, it is common property.

In order to address this, several options were tabled. We might sell them off as private property- in this case the property is already owned- let the rightful owner take up the property. We might keep them as public property, but allocate the right to enter them based on some agreed upon standards.

One does not know whether a man killing an elephant or setting fire to the grassland is harming others until he recognises the total system in which his act appears. In as much as we admit that our legal system of private property is unjust — but we put up with it because it’s the only one we have at the moment.



AN Analysis of Court Rulings

A further exploration of the rulings will be important here – all constitutional, supreme and high court rulings

After all the courts in the country have ruled, and we are still dissatisfied, does it mean that the justice system is unfair, or is it incompetent? Should we take up issues to the international courts to get justice? What we are doing, is it not in contempt of court? Do we have faith in our constitution – which we all voted for in a referendum? The constitution has played its duty bearer role in a non-discriminatory way in passing the judgement which upheld the eviction of Masterton tenants – thereby protecting the rights of its citizens because rights are universal and there is equality under the law. All parties have been subjected to equal access to justice and a verdict was passed.

The government as a duty bearer has played its part by acting in a non-partisan manner. LCDZ as an upholder of human rights also needs to have its rights protected, promoted and fulfilled under the same law.


Rejection of Solutions

Maybe also finding out why the residents are rejecting solutions

An automatic rejection of proposed reforms is based on one of two unconscious assumptions: (i) that the status quo is perfect; or (ii) that the choice we face is between reform and no action; if the proposed reform is imperfect, we presumably should take no action at all, while we wait for a perfect proposal. This analysis by Hardin (1968), can help to explain the decision taken by the evicted people to stay put. However, waiting for a perfect solution in this economic situation is a pipe dream.


Lessons Learnt

The Charity Approach has been so entrenched and ingrained in the people’s minds and it will need much education, empowerment and awareness raising before people (both public and PWDs) in order to change the mind-set. It has also become evident that people talk about the need for disability and human rights but are not yet prepared to accept the responsibility that comes with the rights discourse. The PWDs have fear of the unknown – changing the status quo will affect their routines. It has also become evident that people approach the wrong duty bearers to fulfil their obligations.

The Masterton case has exposed the polarised nature of reporting within the private and public media – its high time investigative journalism becomes imperative in reporting contemporary issues.