Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Archive for March, 2007

We are starving. We will eat your tear gas.

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Wednesday, March 21st, 2007 by Bev Clark

The title of this blog is what activists from the Zimbabwe chapter of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) said recently.

The police in Zimbabwe often use tear gas to break up demonstrations so I thought I’d give a bit of information on how to deal with “tiger” on the streets.

Breathing in tear gas, or getting it in your eyes, is not fun. This, obviously, is the whole point. But there are things you can do to mitigate the effectiveness of tear gas, and allow you to keep on fighting the good fight.

The first thing to remember about tear gas is that it is primarily a fear weapon. Yes, the gas hurts. But the fear caused by tear gas grenades is a much more effective means of crowd dispersal than the gas itself. So rule number one is to calm down.

Tear gas is most often delivered to its target in the form of grenades. These fit onto the end of gas guns and are fired with blank shotgun cartridges. So, when tear gas is being used you will hear gunshots. Don’t worry: you’re not being shot at.

After you hear a shot, look up. The grenade will be arcing toward its destination trailing white smoke. The grendade will explode. This usually happens while it is in the air, but not always. Again, this can be scary until you get used to it. After the explosion, a small gas emitter remains. It is metal and will be hissing and spewing out tear gas.

The wind is your friend. Move upwind of the gas. This will blow the majority of the gas away from you. Do not panic. Do not run. Panic is precisely what the police are trying to create.

Go to a protest or demonstration with a scarf to protect your face. It will allow you to breathe long enough to escape the gas. It is useful to have soaked your scarf in vinegar. Cider vinegar is less harsh-smelling and is recommended. Breathing in vinegar is not pleasant, but compared to tear gas it’s like fresh air. Unfortunately, the vinegar’s protective effect does not last long (minutes), and your scarf will be saturated with gas afterward. So bring several. Retying a gassy scarf around your face is not a good idea. Make sure the scarf fits tightly around your nose and mouth. You could also wear goggles. Goggles which are air tight. It is one thing to have severe upper respiratory pain. It is another to have that and also have burning, watering eyes.

DO NOT wear contact lenses to any event where there is even a possibility of tear gas usage. The contacts will trap the gas against your eyes which, aside from being painful, will eventually damage your cornea.

My description of what tear gas feels like is this: it feels as if the inside of your head is being dissolved by acid. There is a burning pain and a liquefying feeling as mucous, tears and saliva all begin flowing. Spit, blow your nose, rinse out your mouth, gargle. If necessary, do an eyewash by squirting water across your eye from the inside to the outside with your head tilted to the side.

Different people react differently to the gas. I’ve seen totally unprotected people go up against cops and gas for hours by sheer force of will. However, don’t expect that you will be able to. You may be pleasantly surprised, though.

Finally, diffuse tear gas lingers in the air for a long time. Expect eye, nose and throat irritation for several hours after tear gas has been used in an area, especially if the use of gas was extremely liberal.

Source: http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1026851

Democracy – a long time coming

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Wednesday, March 21st, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

Last week I went to a Regional Round table Discussion on Elections and Governance organised by ZESN the Zimbabwe Election Support Network. It was both humbling and inspiring to listen to civil society actors from all over the region share some of their experiences with democracy, governance and elections. They were familiar with issues in Zimbabwe, and empathetic to them. Listening to speakers from Kenya, Malawi and Zambia, I was reminded that Zimbabwe is not the first to face human rights abuses, flawed constitutions, ignored judiciaries, and livelihoods trampled over for the sake of power and personal or party advancement.

One thing that stuck out quite a lot for me was the extent to which the range of speakers repeated the refrain that democracy is a process, and that while elections are important they are only one part of what makes up democracy. Other things like respect for human rights, access to information, economic stability, access to health care and education, gender equality, an environment free of violence and intimidation, electoral laws and legal systems that make free and fair elections possible are also fundamental to democracy.

It was clear that so many people in the room are eager for elections in Zimbabwe to be held in 2008 – and not postponed until 2010 as has been rumoured and debated by some. But March 2008 is just a year away, and I know there is so much work to be done between now and then. A new constitution, a transitional government, international supervision, all of this and more would need to happen if the next elections are to have any chance of truly representing the people’s will, instead of being one more rigged election which legitimises a hollow charade of democracy.

You can read a summary of the ZESN meeting with audio files on the Kubatana site. ZESN has published the recommendations from the meeting as well as some of the papers which were presented (see the list below).

Runaway Tubing

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Monday, March 19th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

I returned to Harare last week from doing a course in the US, and I sat on the seemingly endless flight marveling at how trusting we can be in this world, believing that this massive hulk of metal, operated by someone I have never met, could safely ferry me and hundreds of random strangers safely across the ocean and the equator. But when I looked up from my novel several hours into the journey, and the first thing I saw was the southern cross beaming at me from across the night black sky, I breathed with a deep sense of homecoming.

Not 24 hours into my stay, a friend asked me what were my impressions of the place. And I felt defensively less than. Because a lot of my impression was how much the same it is – and largely because of a long host of experiences very similar to those Natasha writes about.

On my first day into town, I met Richard, a young man in a white t-shirt and jeans who insisted on walking with me from the Kensington shops all the way to Samora Machel, despite my insistence that I didn’t feel like a chat with him. He had a clever manoeuvre of pretending to stop to fix his shoes – but really just stalling to see which direction I was going so he could then jog to catch up. That same afternoon it was Tawa, who spotted me at that very Takawira and Samora Machel intersection that Natasha mentioned, and walked me half way to Newlands. And that very evening, it was Robert, a suited man who looked to be in his 50s, who sat staring at me and asking the occasional question whilst I tried to read a book as I sipped my lemonade, waiting for some friends.

But in addition to the psssts and the hello sweeties, I have of course had a wealth of those gorgeously poignant and human moments that make this place so beautiful.

When I landed, to tide me over for a while, a colleague handed me a pile of $1,000 notes with a smile: “We’re back to bricks.” The benefits of the three zero project new money seem already to be wearing off.

Standing in the shops my first morning, trying to get my head around current prices, a man in a security guard uniform approached me.

“Excuse me, madam,” he asked shyly, pointing towards the deodorant shelves. “Please can you help me? When choosing a perfume, how do I select for best efficiency in smelling.”

And I looked at these tins of $20 000 and higher deodorants and wondered how much he earned, if he could afford one, and how long it would last. So we had a bit of a discussion about the merits and challenges of different deodorant brands. Spray vs roll on. If you’re looking for underarm coverage or a full body spray – clothes and all. How long different stay last on you. How much smell per tin. And so forth. In the end, not being the most experienced deodorant buyer myself, I feel I let him down a bit, so I gave him an encouraging smile and suggested he ask some mates for their suggestions as well.

Then as I was walking down Nyerere this morning, I spotted a man making his slow but determined way up the street towards me in his pajama top, shorts and patapatas. He didn’t look up at anyone as he went past, he just plodded on, cane in one hand, small black sports bag in the other. As he got closer, I realised there was plastic tubing coming out of the bag, and up the man’s shorts. Catheter? Feeding tube? Blood transfusion gone awry? I have to confess I didn’t stop to ask. But I did have a small chuckle to myself imagining this guy deciding he’s had enough of hospital, by golly he’s going home – just try and stop him.

What is also familiar is the regime’s intolerance, as are its callous policies and casual disregard for the welfare of its people. But, of course, most strikingly not the same is the brutality we’ve seen over the past few weeks. Not, perhaps, that it should be entirely surprising. If, as a government, you’re able to preside over 1700% inflation, life expectancy dropping by 30 years, and the exodus of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of energetic capable workers seeking better living and working conditions overseas, maybe it’s not really so much of a stretch to shoot a protester, arrest top opposition leadership, klap them upside the head, jump on their legs and stomach, nab them, bludgeon them, and leave them half dead.

But certainly, the violence of the past week or so has had a very different air about it than the more familiar demonstrate-arrest-demonstrate-arrest cycle. What I’m hoping is also different is our (individual and collective) willingness and determination to do something different, to strategise and regroup and get innovative, clever, strong and proactive in our resistance to the status quo – and our insistence in creating something new.

Lip stick, bread and spirits

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Monday, March 19th, 2007 by Bev Clark

Anna, a domestic worker living and working in the suburb of Greendale, Harare angrily said to me “Zimbabwe is finished – FINISHED!” I thought wow, this violence over the past few days has really gotten to her. Finally she’s enough, as we say here. But when I talked further with her she believes that Zimbabwe is finished because it now costs her Z$5000 to get from Greendale to Mabvuku – one way. Again we see that some Zimbabweans are viewing the downfall of our dictatorship through an economic rather than an opposition toyi-toyi lens.

I felt similarly when I went to the supermarket (Bon Marche, “Have a Nice Day” – yeah right) on Sunday looking for some washing powder. I had to look at the price several times and even in the end I still wasn’t sure, but it looked like it cost Z$246 000. I thought I’d settle for a loaf of special bread instead which cost Z$2 800. When I got home and pasted some peanut butter on a slice I noticed that there were a few small black spots on it. Closer inspection showed them to be a kind of a seed although at arms length the bread looked fungified (non-word in case you were wondering). Aah, so that’s why its special!

Meanwhile with the increasing political tension I’m wondering whether the organisers of the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) which is scheduled to kick off on, wait for it, 1st May (Labour Day) are pleased (potential liberation of our country) or gutted (who all is going to come visit violence ridden Zimbabwe, and who all will be in the mood to “party” as it were)? Will we have the same old argument from culture buffs and the like who say, “well, life goes on and its important that we keep our spirits up.” But HIFA is generally supported by those who already have their comforts and the ability to keep their spirits up (cappuccino outings, satellite tv, etc) whereas the majority have no option but to choose a loaf of bread over a theater ticket.

And of course the diplomatic community, some of whom came out in condemnation of the brutal attacks on civic and political activists recently, are often financial supporters of HIFA or avid show goers. So on the one hand some Zimbabweans are working to expose Zimbabwe for what it really is – a repressive dictatorship. And on the other hand we have Zimbabweans committed to upholding Zimbabwe’s image as a place to hold international events; where everything is hunky-dory. Supposedly.

What will it take for us to refuse to lip stick this regime?

Sounds of strangling

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Sunday, March 18th, 2007 by Brenda Burrell

AAW, AAR, AAG, AAJ, AAU, AAI – I was struck this morning by the subliminal message conveyed by our new number plates here in Zimbabwe. And it got me wondering what water would have to pass under the bridge before we got to YAY, YES and YEA.

I was in this frame of mind because I was reflecting on the events of this past week – notably the violence that has unraveled around the thwarted Save Zimbabwe Campaign Prayer Meeting scheduled for Highfields in Harare on March 11.

Opposition activists got aggressively beaten, tear gassed, arrested and held for extended periods in dirty cells without access to medical treatment and legal assistance. Policemen and women got bashed, firebombed and tear gassed. Some members of the public got stoned – because they were traveling in a bus that the activists wanted to burn; vendors had their goods stolen – because a mob mentality had developed in the absence of leadership and direction.

What do we make of all this?

Many people are secretly pleased that the “opposition” has finally got its act together and shown the regime what they’re made of i.e. Dangerous Elements That Need To Be Taken Seriously. It’s not hard to understand this view – everyone is sick to the back teeth of the heavy handed policing that is used to subdue us. Police, army, politicians and business people with Zanu PF connections act with impunity. The illegitimate is made legitimate by promulgating suffocating, disenfranchising legislation.

But for me, if this is the way that our new dispensation is going to evolve, I want none of it.

Why? Because I want to believe in and work for a future that is not built using bully tactics. If we win our freedom from the current regime using violence, what are the prospects for the next regime being any different?

Expeditious propagandists on both sides of this struggle are trying to take profit from this ugly week. If we want a future different from what we have now, we’re going to need to choose our tactics with much more care.

Cruelty beyond the call of duty

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Saturday, March 17th, 2007 by Brenda Burrell

Sekai Holland - injuries
How must it feel to have lost access to someone you care about? To worry, knowing they are in the hands of vindictive, vicious, unaccountable policemen and women who are hell bent on making sure you can’t find them.

How must you feel when reports finally start to reach you that they are badly injured – bearing injuries they didn’t have before they entered the walls of one of the many police stations dotted around the city – and they are being prevented from receiving medical treatment and legal assistance?

How must it feel when finally they have been released and you visit your spouse, sibling, parent, partner, comrade in hospital and see them covered in bandages, bruises and swellings? Covered in injuries caused by violent, callous, repeated beatings at the hands of … the police?

How must it feel to get them home – finally released from a punitive, unjust legal system that is a parody of what it should represent?

Spare a thought for the families of Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh whose injuries were severe enough to warrant them being medivac’d to South Africa on March 17.

Grace Kwinjeh - Injuries

To prepare for the evacuation they got the necessary clearance from the President’s Office, Immigration, Customs, airport security – only to be stopped on the tarmac by… a policeman with a brand new, never before heard of requirement. The officer commanding the Law and Order Section of the police had arbitrarily decided they now had to get clearance from the Ministry of Health.

There is no legal requirement for these women to remain in Zimbabwe at this stage – as far as the law is concerned – so where exactly does Assistant Commissioner Mabunda stand in relation to the legal system in Zimbabwe? Inside or outside of it?

Imagine that man’s karma.