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Archive for January, 2007

Against the regime: Majongwe sings what he likes

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Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 by Taurai Maduna

Listen to audio interview with Raymond Majongwe

Raymond MajongweOn December 16 2005, outspoken Zimbabwean trade unionist and musician Raymond Majongwe, made his way back to Zimbabwe from Nigeria where he had been attending the 14th ICASA AIDS conference. Little did he know what the government had in store for him on arrival at Harare International Airport? When he landed the Zimbabwean authorities seized Majongwe’s passport accusing him of being a sellout and peddling lies about the country.

Majongwe, who has lost count of the number of times he has been arrested by the Zimbabwean authorities, said he couldn’t believe what happened to him. “I asked them: what is a sell out? How do I sell a commodity I do not control”?

To add insult to injury after getting his passport back from the Zimbabwean authorities, Majongwe was denied a visa to travel to the United Kingdom by the British Embassy in Harare.

In the song “Of Passports & Visas” on Majongwe’s new music album called I Speak What I Like, the activist musician said he was trying to make sense of the Zimbabwe and British governments. They are opposed to one another but together they, “connive and agree” in denying him an opportunity to travel.

The title of Majongwe’s new album is clear enough to scare some Zimbabwean musicians who have censored themselves from being the voice of the voiceless. Some say that musicians in Zimbabwe do not generally sing what they like because they want to make sure that they stay on the “right side” of the regime. However, he praised musicians like Leonard Zhakata who, despite the current political challenges, have not minced their words and continued to record songs that reflect the views of the people. Some of Zhakata’s songs have allegedly been banned on state radio.

One would expect that the release of Majongwe’s eighth album would see him entering the local music charts but for Majongwe, this is still a dream. His previous albums have not seen the light of day on the national airwaves.

“I will continue doing what I think is right and I will continue singing what I like at what ever cost, or price that has to be paid”, Majongwe said on being asked what had been the inspiration in recording his new album. He added, “I was trying to send a message that I am not going to apologize for what I believe in. I am not going to be apologetic about my thoughts, about my opinions and experience.”

In his song It’s Not Easy Majongwe warns that the road to freedom won’t be a walk in the park. The song Sekuseduze comments on the fact that it is always darkest before dawn. Majongwe said, “People must be reminded that no regime can have its hand on a boiling pot forever”.

The Truth is a song that warns people who “promote violence, brutality and barbarism” that they will be accountable someday and everyone will know the truth.

Majongwe describes Thomas Mapfumo as being his greatest influence. He also gets inspiration from the self proclaimed South African ‘people’s poet’ Mzwakhe Mbuli and the late legendary Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti. In a show of admiration for Fela, Majongwe recorded a song called Fela on his debut album titled Which Way Africa.

Speaking about the challenges he faces Majongwe said many promoters have not been keen to work with him for fear of government reprisals. He added that music shops and flea markets are reluctant to sell his music because they fear that state agents will come and confiscate everything.

But the jovial Majongwe is optimistic that Zimbabwe will one day be free. Having recently returned from a visit to the United States, he described the trip as an “eye-opener. “I was shocked that people can go to the president’s house and shout what they want,” he said laughing.

In silence we sing

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Monday, January 29th, 2007 by Bev Clark

We sent out a Kubatana email newsletter recently and in it I asked our subscribers to give some feedback on the following

We’re reading a lot these days about the “harmonization” of the 2008 or 2010 elections. However, the MDC has experienced what they’ve called “stolen” elections for the last 6 years. It seems that the MDC along with elements of civil society feel that formal elections are still the only way to go and that they hope that the electoral and constitutional conditions will be favourable by 2008 to enable free and fair elections. The mind boggles at this lack of creativity and innovation. Isn’t this like flogging a dead ballot? Do you have some bold ideas? Feel like sharing your daring? What are your thoughts about voting and elections?

We got a lot of feedback and I share a little bit of it with you here

Perhaps I am mistaken, but aren’t parliamentary elections held every five years and presidential elections are held every six years? If so, isn’t this so-called harmonising a once-off event as I have not seen any reference to reducing the presidential terms to five years to bring it into line. (Ken)

It is utterly immaterial when the elections are held, as the regime will rig them, come what may. Indeed they can probably run elections without rigging as the MDC factions will spend most of their energy fighting each other and doing the regime’s work for them. If anyone is naive enough to think that change can come through the bent ballot box, they are living in a fog of self-delusion. I can understand trying something once, twice or even three times, but if you do so again and again and learn nothing, then you are an idiot, pure and simple. Those who wish to waste their energy on opposing this ‘harmonisation’ are reactionary counter-revolutionaries who will divert and distract and divide us – just as King Robert intends. Even if through some miraculous cock-up, zanu-pf fails to rig the elections and fails to unleash an overt coup against whoever wins, without meaningful structural and procedural change, we will merely exchange one set of thieves for another who will waste no time in looting the remnants of the economy while making all sorts of excuses to justify keeping POSA, AIPPA etc while they consolidate power. I for one cannot tell the difference between the fat cat chefs in zanu and those in the mdc except that the mdc ones are perhaps slightly leaner. (Mandebvu)

2008 was not only marked as a year for getting the voices of the people heard through elections, we all even expected a new product on the Zanu PF shelf. We expected Mugabe to simply abdicate the throne and give a wholesome chance to another candidate. At least this could have given the people fresh hopes of a better Zimbabwe since it was this one person who had made this country become a failed state. Can we really blame it all on the opposition and call it a moribund? To that I can only say the power of any revolution lies in the people and not in the leadership of the revolution. That was then going to be revealed in the year 2008. (Clayton)

In keeping with the last opinion, perhaps the poem In Silence We Sing by Zimbabwean poet Albert Nyathi is appropriate

Even the silent ants
Trampled upon by giant elephants
Do sing a silent song
They shall surely know
How to shoot
The great foot
Weighing heavily on them

The Q-Spot

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Friday, January 26th, 2007 by Bev Clark

It’s good to hear that the issue of sexual diversity has been tackled head on at the World Social Forum that’s been taking place in Nairobi, Kenya. Check out this interesting blog written by Adam Maanit, a Co-Editor at the New Internationalist.

Amidst all the huffing and puffing about what constitutes gay rights, Kasha Jacqueline, a Ugandan human rights activist summed it up succinctly

When Ugandans hear that we are advocating for gay rights they imagine we want more or extra rights, but NO; we want what belongs to us which was robbed from us; EQUAL RIGHTS which we are entitled to just like any other Ugandan.

Love is all around

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Friday, January 26th, 2007 by Bev Clark

OK, I admit it. I’m in love with Michela Wrong. Do yourself a favour and check out her regular column on the NewStatesman web site. Her latest essay is about the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Sections of her writing reminded me of our situation here in Zimbabwe. All over the world we are more alike than we care to realize or admit.

Quite often efforts on the part of foreign governments and international development organizations to ease poverty or conflict in other countries are neutralized by their active involvement in maintaining the status quo through the delivery of foreign aid and humanitarian assistance. Wrong highlights this when she says

Diplomats like to present themselves as powerless in the face of Ethiopia’s famous obstinacy. It’s an argument I have never accepted. Ethiopia’s government, which receives an annual £1bn in aid, relies on donors to feed its hungry, build its schools and provide clean water. Throw into the pot Ethiopian ambitions of seeing Addis Ababa crowned as Africa’s diplomatic and political capital, and you have a perfect scenario for applying pressure. Not inviting Meles to sit on Blair’s Commission for Africa would have been a start.

The other love of my life right now (tomorrow will be a different story) is Violet Gonda, one of SW Radio Africa’s presenters. She recently interviewed Morgan Tsvangirai, president of one of the Movement for Democratic Change factions. Her hard hitting questions were right on the mark – what a pity Tsvangirai couldn’t rise to the occasion.

Violet: OK, you said it was the agenda of the Congress, and one example was the Winter of Discontent, these are the timelines that you give as the opposition, so when …

Morgan Tsvangirai: But it was not a timeline, that’s where you make a mistake. It was not a timeline, it was a metaphor making sure that people are mobilised as a discontent but not on a time-frame as to say that because winter is June to May therefore it should happen during that period. I said as a programme of action the democratic resistance of the MDC will start immediately as we finished our Congress in March and it’s an on-going programme and we haven’t abandoned that.

Violet: But it’s over a year now since you said those things. When are we going to see the programme of action?

Morgan Tsvangirai: Well you wait and see, it’s going to happen.

Don’t know about you but I’m dead keen to tune into this programme of democratic resistance. Can anyone tell me which frequency its on?

Inflation is soaring – but opposition planning is slumped

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Thursday, January 25th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

I left Zimbabwe in July 2006 with $20 million in my bank account and $20 million in cash. I knew that inflation would be a problem, but I thought I had set aside enough to last me awhile when I got back in December.

I accepted that six months later my $40 million would be able to purchase a fraction of what it had in July. But I wasn’t expecting my currency to stop existing altogether.

I’m not the only one whose money went from hero to zero when the government “restructured” the economy and binned the old bucks. I’m hoping to donate my $20 million (in a thousand $20,000 notes) to an art school looking for innovative wall-or toilet-papering solutions. As for my $20 million bank balance that is now a sorry $14,000 (Operation Sunrise + Bank Fees)? That’s anyone’s guess.

Of course when I got back, I couldn’t stop adding three zeroes back onto all the prices to make more sense of things. And I kept asking myself – would I really have spent $2 million on that coffee? $1 million on that newspaper? $700,000 for that bus ride? And of course I wouldn’t have. Six months ago. But six months is an eternity in 1200% inflation. And head spinning price increases are just part of the routine. It was hard to shake off the feeling that they just chopped off those zeroes so they could keep raising prices – and psychologically people wouldn’t catch on quite so quickly.

Which makes me think maybe the ruling party has a plan. Unlike the opposition.

Earlier this month, the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of NGOs and individuals in the pro-democracy movement, announced its next campaign. Its 2007 demand? “We want to vote in elections in 2008.”

But as one person in the audience pointed out, it’s not enough to call for elections any more. If the next Zimbabwean elections are as rigged, or as unfree and unfair as the ones in 2000, 2002 or 2005, they really won’t make much of a difference. So as an afterthought, the Save Zimbabwe Campaign amended its demand to read: “We want to vote in elections in 2008 under a new Constitution.”

As a slogan it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But more importantly, as a strategic campaign platform, it misses the point.

The current regime’s interest in the Constitution is to make it more repressive, not less. Its idea of a People’s Constitution is one in which the people agree to sign over even more power to the ruling party than it has already stolen. Short of that, Zanu PF isn’t interested in reforming the Constitution, or rushing its plans. And until the Save Zimbabwe Coalition develops a carefully thought out, well coordinated, spirit-lifting campaign that mobilizes a significant amount of popular support, the ruling party has no reason to listen to it.

The MDC is facing similar difficulties. It has watched the ruling party rig parliamentary and presidential elections three times in the past seven years. And it has failed to take advantage of popular discontent over these stolen elections each time.

Now, the MDC has announced its support for the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, and is joining the chorus calling for elections in 2008. This despite the fact that the party is under funded, under staffed and lacks capacity to take on any national issue, much less a national election.

And a national election which everyone knows will be rigged demands even more resources and better organization. The parallel tabulation systems, the independent vote counters, support for post-election demonstrations to demand an honest tally of the ballots all require substantial funding and preparation. Unfortunately, if MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai’s prevarication on SW Radio Africa’s Hot Seat this week is anything to go by, the opposition is far from prepared for this.

Zimbabwean pro-democracy activists need to harness some speed from the inflation rate and become faster thinking and more adaptable. And they need to learn some lessons from the ruling party, not in vote rigging, patronage or authoritarianism. But in strategy development, campaign planning and organization.

Mass action

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Wednesday, January 24th, 2007 by Bev Clark

Last year, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, said that “a broad-based alliance of democratic forces” was “putting the final touches to a comprehensive programme of rolling mass action designed to push the regime to the long awaited negotiated settlement.” To help you determine how realistic Tsvangirai’s calls for mass action are, our electronic activism campaign discusses lessons from Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies by Kurt Schock.

Using the struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa as an example we observe that social and political transformation occurs only after a sustained period of challenge in which multiple forms of resistance are engaged. Between 1983 and 1990 activists in South Africa used at least twelve different tactics within major campaigns aimed at challenging the entrenched power of the white regime.

To check out the major nonviolent action campaigns and events in South Africa, between 1983 – 1990 please click here.

Two basic conditions must be met for a challenge to contribute to political transformations: (1) the challenge must be able to withstand repression, and (2) the challenge must undermine state power.

Generally, when the interests of political authorities are threatened, repression is used as a means to control or eliminate the challenge. Unlike democracies, where dissent is expected and tolerated, nondemocratic regimes cannot simply ignore protest, as its mere existence represents a threat to the regime. If protest is ignored, the regime will appear helpless in the face of defiance, and resistance will spread. Thus, those engaging in overt challenges to nondemocratic regimes should expect a violent response by the government.

The organizational template most useful for challenging the state through nonviolent action in repressive contexts is network-oriented rather than hierarchical. Compared to hierarchical organized challenges, network-organized challenges are more flexible, are more adept at expanding horizontal channels of communication, are more likely to increase the participation and commitment of members and the accountability of leaders, are more likely to innovate tactically, and are more likely to weather repression. The more diverse the tactics and methods implemented, the more diffuse the state’s repressive operations become, thus potentially lessening their effectiveness. Protest and persuasion help overcome apathy, acquiescence, and fear. Noncooperation undermines the legitimacy, resources and power of the state, and the collective withdrawal of cooperation from the state promotes cooperation and empowerment among the oppressed.