Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Archive for April, 2007

Scavenging while the fat woman eats

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Monday, April 30th, 2007 by Natasha Msonza

Yesterday a colleague treated me to a Chicken Inn meal. Oh yes! Whilst for some it is an everyday lunch, for me it’s a once in awhile treat – what with two pieces of chicken and a few chips costing $48 000!

We made ourselves comfortable at one of the tables at Construction House, and I immediately dug into the chicken with great gusto. I was halfway through my meal when I got distracted by a scuffle at another table not so far from ours. Two street kids were begging food from a fat woman. The security guard immediately descended on them. They left only to hover just a few meters away. When the guard turned away, the street kids approached the woman again. From where I was sitting, the food in front of her seemed too much for one person. The woman scowled menacingly and drew her food closer to herself, shouting at the guard to “come and do your job!” Once again, the guard, who looked hungry himself, leapt into action and his baton swiftly descended on one of the urchin’s head.

For a moment things looked peaceful until the street kids suddenly returned accompanied by four others, this time bent on forcibly grabbing the food from the woman. The guard stood there helplessly as the vagrants swarmed all over the woman’s table. She stood up defensively, clutching chicken pieces to her bosom and shouted obscenities at the departing figures that had made off with most of her food. One of the urchins even had the nerve to spit on the remaining food on her plate.

Surprisingly the woman settled back in her chair, rearranged herself and the food she had managed to salvage, and picked out a piece of chicken to eat even though it had probably been spat on. She looked pissed off, yet adamant to finish her food. She continued to eat and ignored the guards suggestions to move to a safer table inside the fast food outlet.

Just then, a whole pack of street kids surrounded her, grabbing everything including the piece she was holding near her mouth and quickly made off.

Go and don’t come back to Zimbabwe

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Thursday, April 26th, 2007 by Taurai Maduna

I’ve just received a reply to an email I sent to a friend informing them that I had been offered a fellowship to study at the prestigious Radio Netherlands Training Centre (RNTC).

All he said was good luck in your studies and don’t come back until there is CHANGE. He added “find something else to do there to kill time”.

I just laughed off his suggestion and I wondered how do you kill time in Amsterdam after you have over stayed?

In June last year, I spent a week in Amsterdam where I was taking part in a seminar called Expression Under Repression organised by Hivos. Before my return home, I took a stroll in the city famous for it’s “red light district“. I met a guy from Sierra Leone, at first I thought he wanted to con me, but then I realised he was just trying to be friendly.

He told me about his wife and three kids and how he was struggling to get his asylum papers in order. He said his main challenge was the Dutch language as he was supposed to be fluent if he was to pass the integration test. This guy had been there for over four years.

My ‘guide’ then asked me if I was planning to return to Zimbabwe. I told him yes, I’m going back. He was dejected probably wondering how stupid I was not to stay. It got me thinking about why it is often tough for young Africans to get a VISA to travel to Europe. They just go and stay low, as the saying goes.

Life may be tough in Zimbabwe but I don’t think “staying low” in Amsterdam will do me justice. I have told myself that if I am going to leave Zimbabwe, I will get my papers in order and be free as I move around in whatever country I decide to settle in.

Through my travels, especially in South Africa, I have seen people in self imposed exile suffer. They struggle to make ends meet, doing menial jobs and when pay day comes, their employers call the police and they have no choice but to run.

Such is the reality as I pack my bags in a few days time. I just wonder how you pack for self imposed exile? What do you take, what do you leave?

Cry freedom

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Thursday, April 26th, 2007 by Natasha Msonza

Last week I boarded a “chicken bus” (you know; the ones with the not so comfortable seats, ugly, dirty looking and often associated with the poor, because they are cheap). I was in a mad rush to get to Gweru and back the same day.

There were all kinds of unpleasant smells in the bus ranging from unwashed bodies to boiled eggs. Along the way the bus made a point of stopping at every major rank, picking up all kinds of folk, some of whom were bare foot and dirty, carrying live chickens among other things. I started to feel out of place in my casual corduroy pants, sneakers and designer shirt.

The bus was getting overloaded with standing passengers as we made slow progress towards Gweru. I began to regret and curse my lack of hindsight. The bus was moving at a frigging 60km/hr! Fruit vendors and beggars jostled in and out of the bus whenever the bus stopped. I kept my nose pressed into my shirt and prayed for speed, glorious speed.

From the back of the bus a loud, desperate voice started singing something that sounded gospel. The voice belonged to a disheveled blind woman being led by a similar looking girl most certainly less than 10 years old. The two were struggling to make their way to the front of the bus, begging each passenger for money.

When the pair got to me, I heard the young girl whisper to her mother, “apa pane murungu, ndotaura sei?”- translated loosely – “here is a white person, how do I communicate with her?” I got offended not at being called white, but at her failure to realize I was just a light skinned person who is one of them. While I’m better dressed, the fact that I was also in this bus that’s cheap indicates that I’m also struggling, just like them.

Slowly I began to subconsciously direct my anger elsewhere: towards the forces that have reduced most of our people to dirty beggars; towards the egotistical few that have enriched themselves and destroyed our economy making sure everyone else lives below the poverty datum line. I looked around the bus and thought – these are the real Zimbabweans, and among them were the real freedom fighters who ought to be the ones crying out – “We fought for this country!” Yet they are the very ones who occupy the bottom rung of society. As I pushed my way off the bus at my destination, more traders and beggars jostled to sell their wares and beg and I wondered if it will ever be possible to take back from the selfish government ministers what rightfully belongs to everyone in this country.

20 seconds

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Tuesday, April 24th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

I have to admit that I didn’t follow the US university shooting all that closely, but in my peripheral vision I caught bits of it.

A friend of mine was saying how apparently some of Seung-Hui Cho’s teachers knew he was a bit odd from long back, because it would take him something like 20 seconds to answer the most basic of questions. And even then, he would answer quite plainly.

Like my friend, when I first heard this, I thought maybe the teachers were being unfair, or too judgmental, or impatient Americans or some such. Until she said come, let’s try it. “What is your name?” she asked me. And then started to count “1, 2, 3, 4, . . . ” By 4 I couldn’t believe I hadn’t answered yet. By 16 I thought no this is ridiculous, and by 20 I could see that yes, if someone acted like this with me I’d think they were a bit odd as well.

I thought of all that this afternoon when I was coming from the shops and saw the lead bike in Mugabe’s motorcade come past. Fifteen vehicles and 20 seconds later, the whole thing had passed. I had time to unlock my bike, do up my shoes, ride across the car park and wait in the queue to turn right with the rest of the traffic before they had moved on.

Cho might not have been the world’s greatest conversationalist. But I’d still rather spend my 20 seconds waiting for someone to speak than waiting for one man to pass me on his way to work so that I can carry on along mine.

Forced to attend Independence Day

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Tuesday, April 24th, 2007 by Bev Clark

After Zimbabwe’s Independence Day on April 18th, we received this email from a member of the public

I would like you to inform the whole world that people were forced to attend independence day or they risked losing their stands at Mbare and Mupedzanhamo. That is why the stadium was full.  Some were forced in the streets to go and attend, this is not an independent Zimbabwe.

So, while Kubatana might not reach the whole world as our correspondent desires, we can at least reach a few of you out there in the blogosphere, giving you some Zimbabwean street level news.

Surveillance and scepticism

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Monday, April 23rd, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

When I first heard about the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s (ZRP) Trail of Violence report, I was sceptical if it was even a legitimate document. But seeing a link to it on the Government of Zimbabwe Ministry of Home Affairs website gave me confidence in its existence as a document genuinely produced by the Zimbabwean Government. Even if big question marks still linger about its contents.

The report outlines the activities of “the opposition” in Zimbabwe in the form of the Broad Alliance which it describes as including:

It claims that the agenda of these organisations is to “mobilise people for regime change in Zimbabwe.” The leaders of these “opposition forces have been addressing numerous meetings across the country, drumming support for anti-Government activities and civil disobedience.” To prove this, they chronicle rallies, public meetings and demonstrations which these groups have put together.

It’s a thorough, careful and – aside from the petrol bomb side of things – accurate feeling report. The activities, recounted in excruciating detail, are clearly intended to portray “the opposition” as an organised, violent, ruthless force aimed at destabilising the government. It fits snugly into the government’s own propaganda strategy. It’s easy to imagine how they’ll roll it out at regional summits or in conversations with the likes of South African President Thabo Mbeki. It’s written to illustrate that the Mugabe government is under threat, and that any restrictions on civil liberties, human rights or freedom of movement are “measured and necessary” – even if this includes beating activists, arresting them and holding them indefinitely.

It’s hard not to laugh at the report’s desperation. What awful things have the Save Zimbabwe Campaign done? They’ve distributed flyers urging people to clap, hoot and shout for a better Zimbabwe. What mischievousness is the MDC up to? Well, they are holding rallies attended by thousands of people and discussing the need for a new Constitution. They are marching through Bulawayo with placards saying “Pay the Police” and “We demand Jobs.”

From one perspective it’s a record of an impressive array of pro-democracy activities. Between the MDC, NCA, ZINASU, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, ZCTU, the Christian Alliance and WOZA, hundreds of people have attended meetings or participated in demonstrations not only across Harare but in Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare, Kadoma and Gweru as well. Unsurprisingly, given that the ZRP wrote the report, a lot of attention is given to the alleged beatings and petrol bomb attacks on police officers. None to the beatings of opposition activists whilst in police custody, which have resulted in at least 225 people needing medical attention in the past month are mentioned.

It sounds callous, but the pictures of the allegedly petrol bombed women police officers aren’t in the least convincing. If you’ve just survived having a petrol bomb thrown into your home and your face and body are burnt to the excruciating extent they’re made to look, would you really be sitting up in your hospital bed with a nurse giving you tea straight from the cup? Wouldn’t your lips be too sore to sip?

Outside of critique and incredulity, what can we learn from this document?

The report spends several pages detailing the different ambassadors who have been seen in association with opposition activities. The Mugabe government falsely believes Zimbabweans are incapable of organising resistance without outside prompting or support. If the government is convinced of this, how useful is the presence of these ambassadors at jails, hospitals, courts, and rallies? What does it achieve, and at what cost?

Do any of the organisations which feature in the report have as thorough a record of their own activities? What can we learn from this documentation, and how can we use it to help enhance activities within and across civil society organisations in the future to develop strategies and grow membership?

Finally, one could read the report and get intimidated. It is 58 pages of names and dates and locations and events. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most pro-democracy activists and organisations in Zimbabwe are aware of the potential for government surveillance, and the possibility of a CIO agent in every meeting. Mugabe wouldn’t be running a dictatorship if he wasn’t good at keeping tabs. Everyone knows this, but if activists are becoming a bit lax, the report reminds us that Mugabe government’s surveillance activities are alive and well.