Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Archive for November, 2006

Bubble bath, after a long day queuing

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Thursday, November 30th, 2006 by Bev Clark

In order to curb the theft and trafficking of stolen vehicles the Government of Zimbabwe directed that all Zimbabwean car owners change their old registration (number) plates to new digitised ones. Having just returned after 6 hours of administration and queuing to get my new number plates I’m sitting here thinking its no wonder Zimbabwe and other African countries are going backwards faster than forwards. The guy next to me smiled benignly and said, “You just have to be patient”. The trouble is we Zimbabweans are just too patient, which is why we’re stuck with an entrenched president and the highest rate of inflation in the world.

So my day included a long and dusty queue out at Southerton Police Station where I had to move my car onto a traffic island for a while to “queue more safely”. Then I was shunted between Rooms 2, 4 and 3 – in that order. I left my Hivos pen made of recycled car parts in the hands of the last official who was taking longer to tick his boxes because his ballpoint kept on bombing out. Then onto Rowan Martin Building where I sat on a hard bench for several hours shunting slowly to the front whilst wondering what to do with the brazen queue jumpers: attack them with the old metal number plates I was clutching, or ignore them.

Light relief came in the form of Norman the Municipal Policeman who intermittently marshalled the people gathered and grumpy on the bench. At one point he stared at me intently and asked me whether I use Bubble Bath. I was momentarily taken aback, say 5 seconds – this is Zimbabwe after all and anything goes – and said yes, thinking that he was going to ask me for a recommendation for what to buy his wife for Christmas. Instead he said he’d be right back and disappeared into a back room only to emerge a short while later clutching a 2-litre bottle of Fern Bubble Bath imported from Botswana. Unfortunately it looked more like dishwashing liquid than anything else.

Norman said that he was travelling to Francistown tomorrow night to pick up some more stuff to sell: fish, tinned beetroot and of course bubble bath because, “you know how things are here, we can’t survive like this, we have to do other things”.

Then another guy asked me if I had any cars to sell, even non-runners. I said nope but the one I’m driving will shortly be a non-runner. This of course was some light flirtation (on his part) because he soon moved on from cars to wanting my telephone number. Rather give me yours I said, being bold. So now I’ve got a yellowed piece of stationery – a Gross Mass Certificate from the Ministry of Transport – in my pocket, with Norman’s phone number on it.

As well as – you guessed it: Romeo’s.

365 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

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Thursday, November 30th, 2006 by Bev Clark

This is one of my favourite times of year. No, not the upcoming festive season, I mean 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. For these two weeks, the reality of the sexual violence that women and girls experience every day of the year is taken seriously and reflected in newspapers and by organisations.

Groups like Amnesty International and Take Back the Tech are running special campaigns to mark the event.

Amnesty International reports that at least 1 in 3 women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. In Zimbabwe, discussion of the Domestic Violence Bill has made many of us more aware of the brutality many women endure in their own homes. Childline received more than 34,000 calls between January – September this year. 70 percent of these calls were related to sexual abuse of children.

Just this week, as WOZA took to the streets to mark International Human Rights Defender’s Day, 36 members of WOZA, including six mothers and babies, were arrested in Bulawayo. These 36 were among the 200 who had assembled peacefully. The police ruthlessly attacked the women, and over 25 needed medical attention for injuries incurred from baton sticks, and from trampling when the crowd tried to escape the police assault.

And it’s not over yet. I’ve just received the following email from WOZA

Threat to Jenni Williams

The 36 WOZA/MOZA members arrested yesterday remain in police custody. It has emerged that there have been threats to separate Jenni Williams from the rest of the group in order to severely beat her or worse. WOZA’s lawyer has also been threatened with arrest,for “interfering with the course of justice” whilst trying to attend to her clients. You are requested to call Bulawayo Central Police Station and let them know that the world is watching and will not tolerate further assaults on WOZA members. Their numbers are +263 9 72515, 61706, 63061, 69860.

Violence against women takes all forms – it happens in the home, in the village, in town, at work, at school, and on the street. We should have 365 days of activism, not just 16. We should be seeing this sort of press coverage and mobilisation everyday.

It’s time that we finally acknowledge just how pervasive violence against women really is.

Wild Beasts and other animals

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Thursday, November 23rd, 2006 by Bev Clark

I went to Spar supermarket in Msasa the other day to buy a few things and in the butchery section of the supermarket I noticed a sign that said something like

Fresh Game Meat Available at Z$3500/kg

and I was curious as to what kind of animal the meat had come from (impala, eland?) so I asked the assistant and she fixed me with a stare and said

Wild Beast

You travel along Samora Machel Avenue going East out of Harare to get to this particular supermarket and along the way I noticed a long fuel queue stretching back at least a kilometre from the service station. There were gaps in the queue where some innovative (and trusting) Zimbabweans had written their registration numbers in chalk on the road booking their place in the queue. The guy I spoke with said he’d been waiting for about a week. His patience will eventually be rewarded with fuel for local Zimbabwe dollars and at a cheap rate.

I’ve been reading When A Crocodile Eats The Sun by Zimbabwean writer Peter Godwin – a beautiful but deeply sad account of Zimbabwe’s demise from 2000 onwards. But like all true Zimbabweans his raw account is laced with irreverent humour and charming anecdotes. I liked this one about hippos:

Of all the theories for the hippo’s antisocial behaviour, my favourite is the one offered by the San, the Bushmen with whom I have recently spent so much time for National Geographic. They believe that the hippo was the last animal to be created and was made of parts left over from the construction of other beasts. When the hippo saw its reflection in the water, it was so ashamed of its ugliness that it begged the creator – Kaggan – to allow it to live underwater, out of sight. But Kaggan refused, worried that the hippo would eat up all the fish with its huge mouth. The hippo promised that it wouldn’t eat any living thing from the water, and Kaggan relented. A deal was struck that the hippo must return each night to the land to eat and to shit so that the other animals could examine its dung to ensure that there were no fish bones in it. The regular humiliation of public faecal inspection could well account for the hippo’s irascibility.

The word will continue to fly

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Monday, November 20th, 2006 by Bev Clark

I don’t know about you but I find the letters page one of the most interesting parts of any newspaper. This week there was a great letter in the Zimbabwe Independent from someone in Harare (they preferred to remain anonymous) commenting on the Zimbabwe Government’s intention to place members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) in Internet Cafes to spy on freelance journalists accused of publishing bad stories about Zimbabwe. The writer tells us two things:

- that freelance journalists wouldn’t actually be that daft to use a public space to publish their articles, instead they’d more likely use a friend’s computer and Internet connection

- its rumoured that online news sites like Zimonline actually receive their stories from state scribes who write their articles on state time and using the state’s resources like computers and connectivity

Of course there’s also the issue of goonpower – are there enough of them to trawl all the Internet Cafes of the country on the lookout for wanna be cyber-agitators? We think not.

And anyway, the word will out! One way or another. And to remind us of this just recently we published an amazing poem by Nabil Janabi, an Iraqi poet, on Kubatana.net. It’s called ‘Those words I said’ and you can read it here. Below is a small excerpt

But despite all the rulers, despite their power,
All the radar and missiles that cover the
Poem’s sky,
The word will continue to fly
All over the world.
No power can ban it or stop it
From landing at any airport
For the word is a bird
That needs no entry visa
For freedom
For democracy.

Talking ‘Bout A Revolution

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Friday, November 17th, 2006 by Taurai Maduna

Don’t you just love Friday? In our office, we have what we call Friday music. This is the kind of music that lifts our spirits and keeps us sane. Today, I played ‘my song’ again and again. The more I play it, the more I think about our situation in Zimbabwe. The song is by Tracy Chapman and it’s called – Talking ‘Bout A Revolution.

Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ about a revolution
It sounds like whisper
Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ about a revolution
It sounds like whisper

While they’re standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion
Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what’s theirs

Don’t you know
You better run…
Oh I said you better

Silenced under two regimes

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Friday, November 17th, 2006 by Bev Clark

I’ve been reading an article today called Angry as Hell about Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo. Mapfumo has been making music for over 30 years – a lot of it about justice and political change. His lyrics scared the Smith regime back in the 1970s and after Independence in 1980, his criticism of the Mugabe regime meant that his songs were banned from state-run radio stations in “independent” Zimbabwe.

In Julie Frederikse’s book None But Ourselves: Masses Versus the Media in the Making of Zimbabwe published in 1982 an old Mapfumo chimurenga song reminds us that whilst we’ve had a change of government, Zimbabwean people are still oppressed

Tichakunda – We shall overcome
Thomas Mapfumo

Knock, knock, knock,
Knock, knock, knock,
Come in, sir,
Come in, sir.

This is Harare,
The famous Harare,
Our lives are a round of poverty,
Our houses are like fowl runs,
We sleep like rats,
Our children at school,
We beg for their meals,
Their clothes are full of patches,
Their education is an uphill struggle,
Bur we shall win in the end.

The oppressors shall be defeated,
They shall confess;
The oppressors shall be defeated,
They shall confess.