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Archive for August, 2007

Vision and imagination

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Friday, August 24th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

Inspired by this piece by Brian Chikwava, Kubatana recently sent a text message to our SMS subscribers asking their thoughts on Chikwava’s comment that “Mugabe aside, there is also the failure of the opposition to articulate its vision.”

We got mixed responses, with some agreeing with Chikwava, and others attributing the MDC’s difficulties to the constrained democratic space and absence of rights like freedom of expression.

Some of their replies included:

Well, yes there is need to re-check and weigh the seriousness of the current opposition and leadership, then develop the way forward.

No. The opposition is denied a chance to air it’s views to the people by the ruling party thru a network of legislation – POSA, AIPPA, etc. The overall impression will be that the opposition is not doing enough.

No matter how brilliant the opposition’s vision may be without genuine and active support from the masses they can only go so far

It is so becoz of the failure by the opposition to form one force & the failure to get the much needed publicity to their audiences.

I dont agree entirely. There is no political space 2 articulate.

I don’t think it’s the opposition that has failed, the evil regime has created conditions that have curtailed the efficacy of the opposition

Haisi yaTsvangirai to free this nation. Pliz do not point finger. Iwe neni tinebasa (It’s not (MDC leader Morgan) Tsvangirai’s job alone to free this nation. . . We all need to play our part.)

Instead of coming up with clear national policies and formulating strategies to win the elusive rural electorate they spend time mudslinging each other much to the glee of Zanu PF. The opposition must revisit its charter and really try articulate its envisaged vision and goals or else it could find itself in the dustbin of Zimbabwean politics.

A member in Masvingo sent us an email saying:

I feel that the only party that once demonstrated a lot of vibrancy at its inception is now failing to live up to its original promise of fighting for the suffering masses. Instead of focusing at the mammoth task at hand MDC has shamefully dismantled itself into factions a feature that does not only spell doom onto the restless electorate but further entrench the Zimbabwean populace into a serious economic and political logjam.

What these two factions are supposed to do is to unite and fight for the electorate who are the worst recipients of gross violation of human rights, abject poverty brought by mismanagement of our resources and serious misrule. Tsvangirai and Mutambara should not take us for granted .If they can’t lead to the much awaited political glory where democratic principles are jealously against decay and our battered economy is brought back on track then they have to call it quits and let those who are strong enough to absorb the political heat currently prevailing. Mugabe can be underrated at the opposition’s risk as he has vehemently denied to step down as required by the constitution and as if that is not enough the old man like wine is getting better with age in ZANU PF’s perspective.

Our subscribers’ comments are a sobering affirmation of Trevor Ncube’s contention that “Zimbabweans right now are confused by the division within the MDC. They are disheartened and indeed feel the pain of abuse that comes from Zanu-PF. They are running around looking for a home and they are unable to find it. For me the third way has been a rejection of the politics of Zanu-PF, a rejection of the politics of the MDC and an opportunity to offer a new beginning for Zimbabweans. But I have realised that the third way is an idealistic position…an idealistic position that in this particular time might be a luxury.”

As the prospect of 2008 elections draws ever closer, I’m finding an increasing need to suspend my own cynicism. I am seeking hope and encouragement that the prospect of this “third way” is not so naive or idealistic after all – that somehow it is possible to re-imagine the terrain of struggle in Zimbabwe, shake up the ways we articulate issues and position ourselves. I’m looking for ways to move to a space where “politics” isn’t about whether I belong to one political party or another, but is instead, to paraphrase Martha Gellhorn, about “my standard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, my future or any future.”

(Fun) running the revolution

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Friday, August 17th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

I spotted the first one as I turned the last corner on my way to work this morning. Steaming ahead at an impressive clip, in his maroon and yellow running kit, I figured this was some serious marathon trainer, but I didn’t think much of it.

It twigged when I spotted a policeman dart out into the intersection and direct the traffic (this even though the robots were actually working. And despite the fact that, on the many mornings when the robots are out with the rest of the electricity, you’d be hard pressed to find any police officer directing much of anything). Out of the intersection, barreling down the cycle track, came another runner in maroon and yellow kit. And then another. And then a few in blue. I thought I was just running to work. But I’d landed myself in the middle of some race route.

Not that I was complaining. We had a police escort the whole way. They stopped traffic for us. The police standing at every intersection along Enterprise were alert and helpful – a far cry from the three that heckled me as I passed them by, puffing my way up the road towards home yesterday. I was smiling the whole way with the power of being the one for whom traffic is stopped. And when we got to the Newlands roundabout and the entire circle came to a grinding halt? Yeah, I wouldn’t mind experiencing that again.

Which got me thinking. These race participants were:

  • Noticeable with their clothing and props;
  • Brought together around a shared interest and common purpose;
  • Proceeding through town and making themselves visible to a range of people going about their every day business, thus sparking discussion, conversation and comment; and
  • Protected by the police, escorted, honoured and defended.

In other words, these runners’ experience was a far cry from the WOZA/MOZA members in Masvingo who were arrested for playing netball last week. In fact, the behaviour of the police this morning sounds an awful lot like what they should do with all of our public events and demonstrations.

Until they’re willing to do so, maybe upping the ante of subversion in sports, and fun running the revolution is our next best option.

Perpetuating paranoia

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Wednesday, August 15th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

The headline of an article in The Zimbabwe Independent this week caught my eye. Particularly in light of the Interception of Communications Act, reading that “Zanu PF plans cyber warfare against online publications“ gave me the visceral chill of dread which doubtless the paper intended with the headline.

But the body of the article told a slightly different story. Apparently, a “blacklist” of 41 online publications was tabled at a recent politburo meeting and “is said to have caused alarm among party members during a heated debate on the media,” unnamed sources said.

The purported politburo discussion sounds like sheer paranoia, and the Independent’s uncritical reporting of the meeting feels like simply more fear mongering. The most important point of the article is the second paragraph: “It was not immediately apparent what measures, if any, the party can take against offending websites.”

The regime’s mistrust of independent news and differences of opinion is as unsurprising as it is un-newsworthy. What dictatorship happily allows press freedom to prevail, and blithely stands by listening to all and sundry dissenting viewpoints?

Supposedly the blacklist is connected to comments made by Zanu PF secretary for science and technology, Olivia Muchena, in a report on the role and importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on July 26. According to the Independent, the report says “Comrades, we are all aware that Zanu PF is at war from within and outside our borders. Contrary to the gun battles we are accustomed to, we now have cyber-warfares fought from one’s comfort zone, be it bedroom, office, swimming pool, etc but with deadly effects.”

Muchena reportedly said “Zanu PF must pause and think who is behind the creation of ‘these websites’, the target market of the websites, the influence and impact they have on Zimbabweans and what the image of Zanu PF and its leadership looks like ‘out there as portrayed’.”

So the “cyber warfare” is the one which Muchena claims is being fought against Zanu PF. And if that is the case, a more interesting, thought provoking article would have been the one that asked a few questions about some of the websites on the “blacklist,” which is published at the end of the Independent article. Poked a few holes. Made a bit of fun.

Like of all the news sites on it, why are neither SW Radio Africa nor VOA Studio 7 featured, when they’re the ones the regime is busy jamming? Why CNN and PBS but not the BBC? Why Global Voices but hardly any of the Zimbabweans bloggers they draw on for their coverage of the country? What is the bias of ABYZ News, which acts as a portal to all kinds of news sources, local and foreign, for practically every country imaginable? Why the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, and the US Embassy in Harare, but not those blasted Brits at all? And what kind of anti-Mugabe agenda does Technorati, the blog-tagging website, have? Who knows, but they’re on the list.

It doesn’t look much like a cunning list of strategic targets in an orchestrated campaign to smash cyber-dissent and proclaim Zanu PF hegemony forever more.

The Independent would have done well to leave the fear mongering to the ruling party, and expose the list for what it really is – a list of websites a handful of petulant politicians don’t like because they said a few nasty things about them here and there. We all keep lists – grocery lists, book lists, wish lists, favourite song lists. Most of mine stay where they belong – in my diary. They certainly don’t rate as national news.

Commercially insane

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Monday, August 13th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

I ran into a friend at the shops the other day. We were commiserating about the challenges of life here, and she said she’d been buoyed recently by two things she’d heard in Nigeria: 1) The state can always change, and 2) No one lives forever. I reckoned you know times are tough when you’re turning to Nigeria for inspiration. But her first observation in particular encouraged me a bit. Nothing is static. No state – be it a state of mind or a nation-state – is fixed in perpetuity.

The country is running short of food. In Bulawayo and its outskirts, the hunter-gatherer mode of survival is making a resurgence. Some months back, the government gave chiefs in the rural areas tractors, to help with the ploughing. Apparently, instead they’re being used as money spinners. Taking advantage of the lack of public transportation in many rural areas, the chiefs have converted the tractors as personal income generation schemes, ferrying people from place to place.

Last week I watched someone climb high into the branches of a pine tree, to knock the branches off with a metal rod, for firewood. He got up towards the top of the tree by climbing on the stumpy bits of branch left by others who had been there before him. As a recent IRIN News article pointed out, Rural living standards now apply in the capital. With the immediacy of the collapse around us, it felt insultingly quixotic to worry about the future of our trees. If power is out more often than its on, and gas is impossible to find, who can be blamed for hacking branches off live trees for some firewood for warmth, light and cooking?

Myself, I had a minor coup when I discovered candles in the shops, after long weeks of searching. I gleefully took my allotted two packets to the teller. When she asked how I was, I told her I was fantastic – I’d found candles. She laughed with me. Yes, now you have ZESA, she said, pointing at the blue packages.

Business has become the latest target of the Mugabe regime, and yet in the face of all of this, it remains reluctant to criticise or confront him directly. The Mail & Guardian recently leaked the contents of a meeting between business leaders and President Mugabe. In language reminiscent of the communiqués between the Commercial Farmers Union and the state at the time of the farm invasions, “business leaders plied Mugabe with accolades, saying his ‘contribution to Zimbabwe was without equal,’ that he was a ‘decisive’ leader and that ‘the country’ was responsible for the economic crisis by failing to meet his goals of ‘creating a prosperous society for all’.”

(Even to this day, the few remaining commercial farmers insist they are not “being defiant” by staying put – they are just waiting for legal process to take its course.)

The M&G quotes a confidential business briefing handed to Mugabe, and minutes taken by one of the 12-member business team that attended the meeting. It reports that, “not only did business refuse to blame the crisis on Mugabe, but it even took the extraordinary step of taking the blame itself: ‘When we look at how we as a nation have performed against the goal that you set for us, that is the goal to create a prosperous nation where the lives of all our people are uplifted, we can all clearly see that we have all let you down … this country, business and government, have let you down’,” the article quotes.

Like the commercial farmers, business obviously has its reasons for wanting to curry favour with the regime. It has chosen to propitiate, rather than prod. And it doubtless reasons that a placating, conciliatory tone might be more rewarding than standing firm and demanding what it needs to operate properly. But that strategy didn’t work seven years ago – what makes any of us think that the ineffective approaches of recent years are suddenly going to start delivering for us? What’s that definition of insanity again – doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result?

Drinking and Driving or Driving and . . .

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Saturday, August 11th, 2007 by Dennis Nyandoro

With the situation Zimbabwe is in at the moment, I have realised everyone, everywhere is now affected. It doesn’t matter if you are a political heavyweight, a soldier, policeman or ordinary member of society, everything is either in very short supply or just not available at all.

It is not just about the lack of meat or eggs, flour, sugar or rice or the daily ZESA (power) and water cuts. Now it is even about beer. When I was in TM this morning, there were very few beers in the refrigerator – and the limit of 2 per customer was being enforced. So people are looking for a “beer” that isn’t necessarily the brown bottle, it could be some other drink.

Yesterday, I was offered a lift home and I noticed the driver was just drinking mineral water, even though the cold weather was not so favourable for one to be drinking water for such a long way.

We got to the police roadblock and they asked for his driver’s licence, which is the obvious first question by the officers mounting any roadblock, and we passed through without any difficulty.

When we entered Mabvuku, I realised this man, was actually enjoying his favourite “other beer” – strong stuff (Mainstay cane spirits) diluted with mineral water. He told me that there is a crisis of beer.

So, next time you find people “drinking beer,” it might be beer, spirits, maheu, whatever you can find. The question is, drinking what?!

ICA – Intimidation and Censorship Act

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Monday, August 6th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

On Friday 3 August the Government Gazette announced that President Mugabe has signed the Interception of Communications Act into law, with immediate effect.

To draw on a MISA-Zimbabwe press statement issued 3 August:

The Act will make lawful the interception and monitoring of communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunications, postal or any other related service or system in Zimbabwe. The Act also provides for the establishment of a monitoring centre.

An interception warrant, to be issued by the Minister of Transport and Communications maybe applied for by the Chief of Defence Intelligence, the Director-General of the Central Intelligence Organisation, the Commissioner of Police, and the Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority or any of their nominees.

Service providers, among them Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are required to install systems which are “technically capable of supporting lawful interception at all times.” ISPs will not have long to comply with this law as the Act clearly states that regulations to this effect will be issued within two months of the commencement of this Act.

For more information on the Bill and commentary and analysis around it, have a look at Kubatana’s index of articles on the matter.

It is a draconian, intimidatory and privacy-violating piece of legislation, and the text of it is heart-stoppingly jaw-droppingly stomach-sickeningly blatant in its shameless repression. The government has tried to pawn it off as no different from similar legislation in the US, UK, or South Africa, for example. But what kind of a standard is that? Just because repressive legislation exists elsewhere – even in the so-called developed, established democracies, is that any reason to impose it here?

Essentially, the law legalises what many suspect the state has been doing for years. Whether and to what extent it has the capacity – technically but also in terms of staffing hours, etc – to monitor telephone calls, email exchanges, letters, text messages, and so forth is unclear. But many have suspected the state of surveillance and recording measures long before this Bill was introduced, as the furore around Bulawayo Archbishop Pius Ncube recently reveals.

So the promulgation of the law is not surprising, but it is discouraging. What does it mean for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe? I see it as one more lock on the door stopping people from confidently speaking their minds. Sadly, it is a door many were stuck behind already. Even before this law, we have seen some Zimbabwean activists choose not to publish or speak their opinions openly, opting for anonymity, pseudonyms and silence. As I wrote last year, the ways in which this legislation will further encourage self-censorship are as dangerous as the provisions of the law itself.

The best way to resist it, therefore, is through more voices, more expression, and more openness. That oft-repeated Steve Biko quote remains as true today as ever – the greatest tool of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. Not to belittle Biko’s legacy on the thirty year anniversary of his death, but the best way for all of us to resist this law is to write what we like – and to write it boldly, loudly and often – and to stand firm in our right to not just write and speak, but to hear and read what we like as well. It’s easy to track down two or twenty or even two hundred vocal, truth exposing, active individual and organisations. Finding twenty thousand, or two million, would be much, much harder.