Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Archive for September, 2007

Stay put or stay poor

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Thursday, September 27th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

Zimbabwe’s Central Statistical Office has pegged the current Poverty Datum Line at ZW$12 million a month for a family of five, as compared with ZW$11 million last month and ZW$8.2 million the month before.

Like most Zimbabweans, teachers have spent the better part of this year trying to have their wages keep up with inflation. Earlier this year, Raymond Majongwe, the Secretary General of the Progressive Teacher’s Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) was detained by the police for stating the simple truth that, at the time, a teacher’s salary was only enough to afford four and half bananas a day.

Last week, the teachers rejected the government’s offer of a 91% salary increase. The increase would have added ZW$2.6 million to the present basic wage of ZW$2.9 million, making a total of Z$5.5 million dollars. But PTUZ described the offer as “pathetic,” and is standing firm on its demand for a monthly minimum wage of ZW$15 million.

To achieve its demands, the union had been on a “sit down,” in which teachers were reporting to school each day, but sitting at their desks and not teaching. This week, the PTUZ changed tack. It is now urging its membership to stay away from work altogether. “Stay put or stay poor,” it advises, and is hoping that fellow teachers’ unions, the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association and the Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, will join the action. As inflation spirals, the teachers’ demands have increased – they are now demanding a basic salary of ZW$18 million plus another ZW$14 million in housing and transport costs.

This would put teachers just barely above the Poverty Datum Line – for now, until it goes up again. It would certainly leave them far better off than those in the agricultural sector.

Recent increases in the agricultural sector wage mean that the highest paid agricultural worker’s wage is gazetted at ZW$2 million – up from Z$440,000. This still is not enough to buy yourself a loaf of bread (or a beer) a day – not that you could find either one, anyway.

The Week has picked up on a particularly mind-boggling take on all of this. In July, an official from Zimbabwe’s Finance Ministry was reported in the Cape Times to have dismissed Zimbabwe’s deepening food crisis, saying:

The unpatriotic hoarding of food gives the impression that we have a problem, which clearly we haven’t, except in the South African media’s mind. We do not call it starving, we call it fasting. Fasting is actually good for you. Lots of famous people have fasted for the benefit of their people. Gandhi, for instance. In our case, the people themselves will be encouraged to fast, thereby strengthening themselves against the onslaught of colonial imperialism. We have no objection in principle to people eating. Those of us in government all eat, but only because persons in our important positions have to. What we must guard against is the belief that people have the right to break the law if they are hungry.

All this, as a friend pointed out yesterday, in Independent Zimbabwe.

It’s not all milk and honey abroad

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Thursday, September 27th, 2007 by Natasha Msonza

Right now the majority of Zimbos wouldn’t mind one bit being anywhere but here. By God, some people daily risk losing life or limb crossing crocodile infested rivers while others pay heavily with an arm, a leg and probably other parts of the anatomy too coarse to mention – as bribes to “officials” in a bid to process passports and visas. Recently I received an email from a friend who is studying in Leeds. I thought sharing it would remove blinkers from the eyes of a few. Did me . . .

Guys thought I could share this with you. Do you know that most Zimbos in the UK don’t want to be associated with their country? They are so ashamed of this thing ya Mugabe. Imagine, I met here a girl from Kariba and she was looking British, my instincts told me that she was a Zimbo and I asked her where she came from, she looked at me straight and then hesitantly said Zimbabwe thinking that I was from Russia or something. I told her I was also from Zim and she was shocked and then started to cool down. She told me she was afraid to say that she was Zimbo coz people would associate her with poverty and all sorts of horrible things. She has been in Leeds for 2 years and she said people had been asking her whether it’s true that Zimbos stay in trees and caves? And also whether people in Zim could afford 1 meal a day or they starve? They also asked her how she came to the UK. Then, as we were chatting I was telling her that I was home a few weeks back and that yes, things are bad but not as bad as they think here. This other Zimbo woman came to where we were chatting. She was walking with this Motswana guy I know and he was happy to introduce her to other Zimbos but she looked embarrassed and was blushing. We talked about problems at home and she said I am not going back and I don’t want to hear about Zim anymore. Yesterday, the University Chaplain paid me a visit at my flat and I was with this guy from Uganda. He said Zimbabwe was a terrible place and said if people don’t do something now, ‘You are all going to starve’. I cooked sadza for him and he enjoyed it though. This is just a tip of the iceberg, Zimbos are ashamed of their country coz we don’t have an image here. That is why most don’t want to come back. It’s a shame what Mugabe is doing to everyone. I have met a lot of people from different countries and none has a positive image about Zim except a few Indians who still think about Andy Flower and the world class cricket that used to be.  Only a Motswana and a Zambian girl have expressed something positive about Zim. My friend from France, a nice girl doing an Undergrad said, “Zim is horrible but you are nice.” At least that’s a consolation. All other students form associations when they come here but there is no Zim association even if there are plenty Zimbos. I have been invited to the Hindu society, Vietnam society and the Japanese society and it’s really nice to have people who are proud of whom they are. They even celebrate their national holidays and yesterday we were at the Hindu festival.

So there you go. Really what are a people to do? Maybe like my Dad thinks Zimbos are just the Jews of Africa persecuted from all corners. I wonder how it must feel, being confronted daily with something you have no control over; constantly self-conscious and having no peace of mind. I feel sorry for those who are embarrassed to be “Zimbo”. I’m not. And I know that the people who matter do not expect me to be either, and none of this is my fault, but one man’s – well, maybe a few other people too.

A woman is hard to find

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Tuesday, September 25th, 2007 by Bev Clark

I enjoyed reading the latest Body Language column in the Mail and Guardian. The photo that accompanies it is the cover of the current issue of Vanity Fair. It shows a milky skinned Nicole Kidman opening her blouse and baring her bra clad breasts. I agree with Kira Cochrane, the author of the column when she suggests

There is something strangely passionless and perfunctory about the pose – as though, off camera, a doctor has just shown up and told her its time for an impromptu mammary examination. Or, indeed, the magazine editor has just told her she is off the cover unless she gets on with it and gets ‘em out.

The nub of this week’s Body Language is that no matter how successful or intelligent or talented a woman is the media will insist on reducing her to tits and arse.

This got me thinking about how women are portrayed and featured in the Mail and Guardian as a case in point. On closer inspection I found that the writing of male journalists, reporters and commentators is overwhelmingly featured. Even in the Verbatim column, there is just one quote from a woman.

When it comes to the pictorial representation of women the Mail and Guardian is especially poor – at least in this issue. I had to go through 18 pages before I found a photograph of a woman either related to an article or in advertising.

I guess we should be grateful for small mercies though. Featured on page 56 is that very rare bird seldom seen in most mainstream newspapers; the sportswoman. The Mail and Guardian carries an article, and a photograph of Kelly Smith celebrating scoring a goal for England in the Women’s World Cup.

Unfortunately my pleasure was short lived because the article by (you guessed it) David James, caved in on itself with this final paragraph

Kelly Smith is a phenomenal player; with her positioning on the ball she wouldn’t look out of place in a men’s side. One of the lads put it deftly when he said: ‘She’s a manly player – without looking at all manly.’

If you ask me the lad needs a deft kick up his arse.

Cavalcades and orgasms

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Monday, September 24th, 2007 by Bev Clark

Late the other night I encountered Mugabe and his rather large cavalcade on the Airport Road. I had just arrived, and he was leaving for that UN thing. The friend who had picked me up immediately pulled over because if you don’t you’re likely to get a pummeling. One of Mugabe’s outriders used his loudspeaker to tell us to switch our lights off, which we did and the dark night got even darker. My friend’s car is really, really tiny so we rocked from side to side a bit as the cavalcade sped by. Imagine some Avis car hire tourists coming across that lot as soon as they arrived in Harare.

Anyway, cavalcades got me thinking about something I read recently in The Spectator magazine. In a column entitled I always cheer up Down Under by Stanley Johnson he discusses the recent Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) meeting. Apparently there’s a TV show in Australia called The Chaser’s War on Everything and they played a huge prank during the Apec talks. Here’s a small excerpt

They organised a fake cavalcade of limousines, complete with outriders and Canadian maple-leaf flags fluttering from the bonnets of the vehicles, the show’s mischievous presenters managed to breach successive levels of security to deposit an Osama bin Laden lookalike within yards of President Bush’s hotel.

Mugabe will be quite pleased I think to hear of the potential demise of John Howard who seems to be losing popularity both within his own party as well as with the majority of Australians. Apparently Howard’s main political opponent, the younger and more modern Kevin Rudd, wowed China’s President Hu by welcoming him with a long speech in Mandarin. Although, according to The Spectator

Some linguistic experts pointed out that when Rudd proclaimed he wanted to ‘develop the closest possible links’, he actually used the Mandarin to ‘achieve simultaneous orgasms’, but, if that was so, President Hu seemed totally unfazed.

Queer eye for the wicketkeeper

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Monday, September 24th, 2007 by Bev Clark

As I was passing through security at Harare International Airport (if you can still call it that) the young woman ahead of me was asked to open her bag for inspection. She replied that she’d like a female customs officer to attend to her because her bag contained “women’s things”. Which got me thinking about what she could possibly be embarrassed about. Surely we’ve moved on from being squeamish about tampons and bras? But perhaps she had something more exciting, like a sex toy.

Truth is I hate flying on my own. I need a hand to hold; going up, coming down and during turbulence. Otherwise I’m fine. There was a medical emergency on the plane I was on recently when I traveled between Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. The guy in the seat across the aisle from me had a bad turn and had to be given some oxygen. I felt a bit bad because I’d just given him a dirty look because of the gusto with which he was eating his cheddar cheese roll. I can’t bear noisy eaters especially in confined spaces.

I finally ended up in a place called Kenton and spent some time by the sea which was all round fabulous. On one occasion I popped into the local bar and met Trevor a retired South African who gives tourists boat rides. I thought a safe subject for a bit of bar room small talk would be rugby but he got so enthusiastic and detailed in his descriptions of the world cup that my eyes started to glaze over. I moved swiftly on to something I could tolerate – the Twenty20 cricket. Zimbabwe had just won their game against Australia which everyone was celebrating. Like Catherine Makoni blogged, there were quite a few provocative placards scattered about Newlands Cricket Ground during the Zimbabwe/Australia game. What a pity the people filming the event were so skittish about giving us a good read of them. As soon as a placard commenting on the “Zimbabwe situation” appeared on screen the cameraman moved swiftly on to the safe subject of a group of children screaming into the camera.

I have to say that whilst Brendan Taylor was terrific, he needs a bit of a makeover. I wonder whether there’s a Queer Eye for the Wicketkeeper? Another player that I’m itching to get some scissors to is Dhoni who’s hair looks like it hasn’t been conditioned in 14 years.

But back to Trevor. When he asked where I was from, and I said Zimbabwe, he held his head in his hands with a pained expression on his face. And then he said, “You lot are in the dwang (shit)”. Whilst this is true, how I wish Zimbabwe isn’t seen as such a sad case. Or as Brenda said, the butt of jokes.

So I’m just back in Harare. Our plane got in quite late on Friday night. It was wonderful to come back home even with all the challenges we have to deal with. It was great to get a warm welcome from a comrade in arms and have her say, “hey, guess what’s in your deep freeze?” And when I said, a chicken? She said, well don’t get ahead of yourself, I got you a few wings.

What stay away?

del.icio.us TRACK TOP
Thursday, September 20th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

A tour past Harare’s main commuter transport ranks, the city centre, suburban shopping centres and residential areas yesterday made things look very much like business as usual on the first day of a two-day stay away called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

A statement from the ZCTU reported that “most ZCTU members heeded the call to stayaway from work. However most companies remained open but with only skeleton staff operating. We predict that so far this stayaway has been about 55 percent successful.” Some reports suggested that staff were going to work, but were not working once they arrived there.

As one Kubatana subscriber put it, with 80% unemployment, that means only 20% of the population even has work from which they could stay away. So a 55% successful stay away looks like only 10% of the population going to work? Plus of course the informal sector which just carried on as always.

A friend of mine in the repair business offered his workers a choice – they were welcome to stay away and they would not be peanalised or docked anything from their monthly wage, or they could come to work. When he got to work on Wednesday morning he found all his staff waiting outside for him to open up as they normally do. They would not have lost their pay if they’d stayed home. But they also wouldn’t have been served lunch.

Of course, the fact that most businesses remained open didn’t stop the police from harassing the ZCTU staff and leadership. On Monday, three ZCTU officials were beaten and arrested while distributing fliers for the stay away in Harare’s Workington industrial area. Police raided the home of ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo, and arrested his brother Kenneth when they did not find Lovemore at home. The ZCTU’s Bulawayo regional chairperson was arrested on Tuesday, released late that night and then instructed to report to the police again for further interrogation. Something about the level of action and the extent of reprisal isn’t quite adding up.

Kubatana subscribers continue to share their thoughts about the job action. Here are a few of their comments:

I personally think the reason these stay aways are not working is because we are never fully informed why we are staying away, I mean like what are hoping to achieve after the so called stay away who are we staying away from because frankly if it’s a way of bringing the country’s economy to its knees to get the govt’s attention they have already beaten us to that whether we stay away for the next 3 months the economy is already in ruins and the govt wouldn’t care less. I therefore strongly think and believe that what ZCTU needs to be doing now is massive voter education I think the ballot is the only way to beat the mugabe regime to cut the story short stay aways will not work end whether we all stay away end of story.

My personal conviction is that stay aways are an obsolete means to for expression in Zimbabwe. This method has been utilized countless times in Zimbabwe in the recent years with limited success. We need much more peaceful and proactive methods to express whatever sentiments are festering within us. Besides, we do not have to provide the excuse to trigger happy butter stick brandishing law enforcers, to get mercilessly on our people and provoke disorder. Even though the socio-economic situation continues to deteriorate, but let us save life and limb.

Meanwhile, the MDC looks set to allow constitutional amendments to sail through Parliament without any discussion or debate. Agreeing to these amendments will effectively see the MDC conceding that the upcoming elections will be free and fair. But with just six months between now and the likely election date, all the good will in the world could not miraculously transform Zimbabwe’s political environment into a level playing field with open, equal access and confident voters free of intimidation – and I sincerely doubt the ruling party has that much good will towards the process anyway.

I know my colleagues and I all see it. So what is the opposition thinking? What is in it for them? Like this Telegraph article puts it, the MDC is “contributing to its own demise.” The opposition might not mind forming some elite deal and getting swallowed by the ruling party. But what’s in it for the rest of us?