HARARE – Many members of the deaf community in Zimbabwe have been relegated to the streets where they sell airtime and other wares.
Only a handful has managed to get opportunities to participate in the mainstream economy and in the arts sector in particular.
The select few includes reigning Miss Deaf Zimbabwe and Miss Deaf Africa first princess Kuda Mapeture, award-winning model Marvin Mukuyu, dancer Tinashe Dhokwani and Blessing Makimira who has played in the football world cup for the homeless a few years ago in Scotland.
This illustrious group has been joined by actor Martin Rinoona, 31, who plays the role of Solomon in a ZBC-TV drama series called Muzita Rababa which also features musicians Ammara Brown and Mudiwa Hood.
Rinoona, who suddenly became deaf at the age of 10 after spending much of his childhood speaking fluently and hearing well, was born in Mutoko. While still at primary school, his family relocated to Chitungwiza after he became seriously ill.
Doctors treated him for the undisclosed ailment but unfortunately they could not save his hearing ability.
“It was a difficult time. Initially my father never wanted me to learn sign language and forced me to read people’s lips instead.
“Personally, I could not accept the change because I was young and could see other people still able to talk, said Rinoona through his interpreter Sithabiso Ndlovu.
“At that point I almost lost hope in the future because I would interpret things wrongly in class and it was only later after meeting other deaf people that I accepted who I had become.”
According to Rinoona, his father later turned out to be his pillar of strength.
“I went to Nyadire primary school and there were deaf and hearing kids who did drama and traditional dance. I had a friend Shingirai Matema and we decided to join the traditional dancers and to the patron’s surprise I became the best dancer.
“I was so happy that I had been accommodated into the hearing community. Of course I could not hear the rhythm of the drums or the music but by just looking at the hearing students I managed to participate and enjoy,” remembered Rinoona.
After completing his O level studies, Rinoona briefly sold airtime on the streets of Harare before he got opportunities to do sign language teaching in different schools and hospitals under the auspices of the Deaf Zim Trust.
His early love for the arts made it easy to become an actor later on in life.
“I had always dreamt of being an actor as a small child and last year that dream came true when I met Ndlovu (interpreter). She introduced me to Nick Zemura, a United States of America-based Zimbabwean filmmaker.”
According to Ndlovu, Zemura, co-director of the ZBC-TV drama series Muchaneta and Muzita Rababa, was writing a script for a film titled Perfect which featured a deaf man called Mwarianesu.
“I went to the United States under the Mandela Washington Fellowship where we spent six weeks training on leadership in the civic society.
“While there I met Zemura who was thrilled to do something involving the deaf community so I asked Martin if he wanted to act in the film and he jumped at the opportunity! He performed so well that Nick decided to feature him again in another television series Muzita Rababa acting alongside stars like Amara Brown and Mudiwa Hood,” Ndlovu who co-founded AfriAct Foundation which promotes the arts in the deaf community.( Rinoona works for AfriAct Foundation as the programmes director).
Rinoona, who plays the role of Solomon- a son born out of wedlock by a shady bishop in Muzita Rababa, is confident that his performance on the popular ZBC-TV drama series will prove to Zimbabweans that deaf people are as just as talented as their hearing counterparts and should be afforded equal opportunities.
“Sadly I have come to realise that our government and other key organisations do not support the deaf community. They have effectively turned their backs on the deaf people in Zimbabwe.
“…I think that is the main reason why most of them are selling airtime on the streets where they also have to compete with other hearing vendors. This doesn’t mean that there is a problem with the deaf but just that Zimbabweans need to be educated to appreciate what deaf people confront every day,” said the Muzita Rababa actor.
To help Zimbabweans understand more about deaf people, Rinoona intends to record and produce two songs in sign language. The songs are “Give it a try” which encourages the hearing community to learn more about the deaf and “Love Password,” a track about matters of the heart.