Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Archive for September, 2007

Giant-slaying acts: When ants unite

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Tuesday, September 18th, 2007 by Catherine Makoni

Now I will be the first to admit that I am not a huge fan of cricket. I usually find it long and tedious, and therefore boring. Yes boring. I mean it literary takes days on end for the teams to get through a single match. I have a theory about why it was invented but that’s for another conversation. Watching the match between Australia and Zimbabwe was therefore something of an aberration for me, but what an aberration. I will admit l quite enjoyed the Twenty20 format. It’s fast paced adrenaline-filled stuff. None of the sluggish slog of Test cricket. More than the fast paced action, I enjoyed the placards and signs that some of the spectators were holding. One particular one stood out for me. It read, “Masvosve akabatana anovaka churu,” loosely translated “when ants unite, they can build anthills.” We then went on to witness a truly inspired performance by the Zimbabwe team. They played their hearts out against the mighty Australia. They had nothing to lose and they threw everything they had into the game. At the end of it Australia was left reeling from the shock of the defeat against “minnows” Zimbabwe.

The funny thing about unexpected victories is that they get you thinking about new mountains to conquer. Now, we have a lot of giants in Zimbabwe and buoyed by our recent victory, I’m thinking what have we got to lose? Let’s throw ourselves at it and see where we get to. From South America to East Europe and Africa, history is littered with the bones of defeated giants. Think of Augusto Pinochet and Nicholae Ceausescu. It is entirely probable that some of the soldiers in the firing squad that shot him had been trained by him to kill his opponents. Talk about the chickens coming home to roost!

Closer to home think of the oft affable (from our then rose-tinted view) “one Zambia, one Nation, one Nation, one Leader and that leader- Kenneth Kaunda.” Consider if you will Kamuzu Banda. His ruthless exploits were a tragically comic combination of fact and folkloric fiction. Remember how he was rumoured to have fed his opponents alive and kicking to crocodiles? There was nothing mythical about PW Botha and his regime. What about bungling idiot Idi Amin? Or the infamous Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa the cannibal with the 17 wives and over 50 children! Even our very own “Never in a thousand years” Ian Douglas Smith.

But it is not just the dictators who have been felled by Ants United. It is whole institutions and repression machineries. The Berlin Wall, the Apartheid machinery and the Iron Curtain. Ants of the world unite! You have nothing to lose except your chains (apologies Marx and Engels), but my God, just think!

National stay away – Zimbabweans speak out

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Tuesday, September 18th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

In advance of the Stay Away called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) for Wednesday and Thursday, 19 and 20 September, we at Kubatana sent out a text message and email asking our subscribers what they thought of the stay away, whether their workplace would be participating, and what their friends and neighbours were saying about it.

We were flooded with emails and text messages expressing a range of opinions, from eager support for the stay away and a commitment to stay home even if their work place was open, to others who questioned the usefulness of the tactic or whether it would make any difference on the ground.

Here is just a small sampling of people’s responses:

Don’t think it will be a success. People are tired of stay aways.


Supporting it, not coming to work, enough is enough.


Yes and all my friends want to stay away in order to make a statement.


I don’t support the stay away because it has never worked before. It is said it is foolish to try the same thing and expect different results. Can ZCTU think strategies that are constructive. Zimbabweans want solutions not “scapegoat” ideas. ZCTU/NCA are always pointing fingers and have paperwork solutions. What positive things have they done to bring reformation and transformation in this country. When they was Murambatsvina, can I ask how many of these NCA/ZCTU leaders even housed one family or looked for decent shelter for them. If they did so, I certainly did not hear about it. I know ZCTU/NCA travel a lot out of the country, can’t they forge relations outside so that we have raw materials coming in. Bring in influential/expert people (non-political) come in to help solve our economic crisis. E.g. bring in a banker who has a CV of what we are currently going through and has managed to make a turnaround in his country. I know of a few individuals (who are Zimbabweans) who have come together to help the health ministry. They have just brought in a container of medical equipment and drugs to distribute for free. This is going to make a difference and go a long way. Selfish gains is not what we want. We want reformation and transformation in this nation. Just because our president is unpopular is no excuse for better things not to happen. May God help us.


My workplace will be open as we are 50% gov’t but I’ll be staying away together with my friends. Teachers must never attempt to go to work!


Lets stay away and show that we are not happy with what’s going on!


Need to be clear on the objective of the stay away.


We, with all my friends are supporting it, i urge all people from every sector to support it, so that it will send a clear message. Lets go for it!!!!!


I have to work, should a doctor strike? Other people are afraid of repercussions, they may have no job to come back to. A Catch-22.


I suggest that we all wear white, black and red regalia one chosen day of the week till the next elections. It was easier and noble to wear one colour but the last time we wore red T-shirts before the elections we attracted the wrath of the green militia. So this time around it will be difficult for them to single out all people wearing three different colours say every Friday.


The strikes never seem to take off. Some do some don’t. Some know some don’t. Each union must work in concert.


A new form of resistance can be by people hee-hawing (like donkeys) very loudly in the street to show their utter contempt for the regime.


There is no need for people to come into town for any kind of demonstration. People should stay in their respective residential places and demonstrate peacefully there.


It seems this strategy of stay away has already shown its failure – I don’t know what the objective is or what its likely to achieve. Rather use the ubiquitous workers for anonymous tip offs (whistle blowing) for both violation and complicity – name and shame.

The first step would be to inform the workers of their rights in terms of international law as enshrined in the International Convention on Human Rights and its covenants -emphasizing the liability for beneficial or silent complicity. This can be equally applied to direct human rights violations like buying luxury cars instead of buying food (the car manufacturer is liable) or the local media failing to report – Mr editor, you do realise, of course, that you are complicit, you step out of Zimbabwe, you may be held liable under international law! the same applies to the Chief of Police.

They are rationing bread and the general public waits patiently whilst police and army personnel push in to the front willingly served by the staff. This is in flagrant violation of:-The Universal Declaration on Human Rights breaches of these rights entail liability under international law . Attention should be paid to how the staff and the boss might be implicated (legally or morally) in the action or inaction of others, directly or indirectly and through beneficial or silent complicity. Chapter and verse:- “Decisions on the availability of products or the allocation should be taken without discrimination or regard to arbitrary preferences.”

So if the boss stepped out of a plane onto international soil he could get nailed. Also because of the knock on effect he might find it becoming increasingly difficult to access finance, markets and supplies as those international organizations may in turn be implicated (legally or morally) in the action or inaction of others, directly or indirectly and through beneficial or silent complicity so maybe they won’t want to do business with the complicit.

This stuff is powerful and its very exciting. If it was up to me I would cancel the stay away and take this paradigm shift. Publishing a regularly update list of direct International Law violators and the complicit using a very successful tactic from elsewhere – “Name and Shame”. They were amazed at how effective this was even against organizations deemed to be powerful and uncaring. Even if the violators themselves couldn’t care less, somewhere along the line there may be a critical link in their needs or wants that does not want to be implicated (legally or morally).

Rotting moral floor boards

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Sunday, September 16th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

I notice her black soft takkies first. White smooth soled and black laced, they’re shuffling down the aisle beside my sandals. I glance sidelong. A tired face. Simple plaits hold the hair to the side of her head. A thick blue towel covers her white blouse, binding the baby close to her back. I am staring at the pasta, imported from Turkey, on the shelves. It’s one of the few carbohydrates you can find anymore, and I think to myself I’d best learn to love potatoes. At over $600,000 a pack, I’m not going to be eating any pasta again soon.

I’ve gone to this shop in one of Harare’s most affluent suburbs knowing things will be expensive. But hoping just maybe I’ll find something edible. My heart goes out to the woman beside me. I size her up to be a domestic worker, perhaps, or the wife or sister of a gardener employed at one of the houses in the neighbourhood. What can she possibly be feeding herself, and her child, I think to myself with a sigh. I turn and move on to the next aisle, leaving the pasta behind. I notice her pick up a spaghetti packet behind me and sigh again, doubting she could afford it.

I hear the sound of crumpling plastic as I wander aimlessly past the endless shelves of tinned tomato puree, and I turn, just as the woman finishes tucking the pasta safely into the wide wrap of towel at her child’s legs. My eyes widen as my brain registers what she’s doing. Her eyes widen as she realises I’ve spotted her. In an instant I know I won’t dob her in. But I don’t know how to tell her. She looks scared and I smile wanly, shrug, and disappear, hoping she knows I won’t tell; hoping she walked straight out of the shops and home. I stand in front of the empty meat freezers and think about the risk borne by desperation. I leave the shop empty handed.

Five hours, 40 kilometres and eight shops later, the woman’s face still haunts me. Why didn’t I think quicker? Why didn’t I offer to buy her the pasta? Why didn’t I speak with her? What would she have said? What would I have said? What is this place doing to us?

Some time back, a friend flew down to Johannesburg. On the plane, he passed someone leaving the toilet as he was going into it. The lav stank of cigarette smoke, and he suspected the man he’d seen coming out. So he mentioned it to a flight attendant, and pointed the bloke out to them, believing himself a responsible, civic-minded traveller. His heart raced a bit as he got off the plane and saw the same man being taken aside by ground security. He felt a pang of self-doubt wondering what the man’s fate would be.

The story proved grist for many a dinnertime conversation. What would you have done? Why turn him in, why not turn him in, who are you helping, what point are you proving, when is it best to speak up, and when is it best to keep quiet? Which laws do you play a part in enforcing, which do you ignore, and which do you break, and why?

Last year some friends had a visitor who spoke a lot about our “moral floor.” That we, all of us, must have some personal sense of right and wrong, our own set of principles that we know it would be wrong to violate. And that, presumably, if we all did a better job of keeping our moral floor stable and polished and well swept, our lives and those of the others around us would be better off.

I know she has a point. But over the past few years here, I’ve certainly noticed my moral floor boards sagging a bit here and there. We’re all just trying to get by. But what’s a fair price for survival?

Leaving another shop with empty shelves, I called a truce with my foraging instinct. I’d left the house with a list: matches, milk (enough to last four people one week) petsfood, and something to eat. I was returning with milk (enough to last four people two days), cooking oil and potatoes. It would have to do.

As I walked across the carpark, a woman approached me. Tall, lean and hollow eyed she asked me for help. She had three children, a running stomach, no food and no money, she told me. Wouldn’t I assist. My thoughts were with my shoplifter as I reached into my bag and gave her what I had in cash – $600,000. Her face lit up in amazement and she thanked me profusely; it was far more than she’d expected. I smiled thinly and turned away, barely seeing her. I don’t know the value of our money any more. I don’t know how much is a lot and how much is a little. I don’t know what things should cost, I only know what they do. And in all the scramble and scraping and dealing and plan making, what is the cost to our humanity?

Moments of madness

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Friday, September 14th, 2007 by Natasha Msonza

I learnt from the Herald that the Islamic Republic of Iran has opened a library at their culture centre in Harare “in a bid to foster and promote cultural cooperation between their country and Zimbabwe.” The Iran ambassador was quoted saying he hoped the relations that exist between the two countries will go a long way in improving “cultural exchange”.

Cultural exchange? I’m wondering what else this country is coming to, I sure don’t want any cultural exchanges with a country that is well documented for its disrespect, nay disregard for the rights of women. In Iran, you risk getting stoned to death for anything from getting raped to dyeing your hair a different color, or wearing a skirt that comes slightly above your knee. No sir. Talk about a desperation for friends!

On a different note, my maternal grandmother paid us a visit from the village, seeking better medical treatment. She is 80 years old. Of late my siblings had been complaining about how difficult she is. I never paid much attention to this until last Sunday when I spent the day at home with her. It has always been a tradition in my house that if certain foodstuffs are running out, they are left for the youngest kids. There were only two bananas left in the fridge; naturally my two young sisters shared them between themselves. While they were eating the bananas, my grandmother called one of them and asked for a bite. Initially I thought she was just playing, but when the child brought the banana to her, she broke off almost half of it. Clearly shocked and disappointed, the child left. Then the old lady called the other child for another bite, but having witnessed what had just happened, my sister refused.

You will not believe how disappointed the old lady got. In fact, she became angry, and threw a major childish tantrum complaining that one of my sisters was stingy. Later in the evening, she demanded meat (despite our constantly telling her there was none in the shops or anywhere). Although she knows very well the situation, she still demanded the impossible. My best friend also told me her paternal grandfather who is 81 behaves the same way. I was beginning to lose it myself and was considering giving her a piece of my mind when my mother stopped me and explained that its common regressive behavior in the elderly. They become more like children as they grow older. They have their “moments of madness” she said. I imagined somebody like this running a country, and I got very scared . . .

I also cannot help remembering someone’s self-described “moment of madness” in the 1980′s and then, that person was only in his late 50s. No disrespect, but honestly, shouldn’t we be worried, just a little?

The other 10%

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Thursday, September 13th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

At the Kubatana offices, we have a small chalk board which sits outside the door and upon which we write fun quotations and motivating messages, or whatever strikes our fancy. I think the original hope was that random passers by would spot the board, and the pieces of chalk, and be inspired to contribute some of their own words. But so far, that hasn’t really been the case.

The other day, my colleague wrote on the board “90% of life is just showing up.”

I rolled my eyes and groaned a bit when she told me that. It feels like one of those self-help succeed in business kind of mantras. And it goes against my strong Protestant work ethic that, surely, it’s not enough to just show up. It couldn’t possibly be so simple. There must be a whole host of other things you’ve got to do as well. Showing up is a good start, but maybe it’s more like 50%.

So I stammered a bit today when the man delivering the paper stopped and said -

“Your sign. What does it mean?”

And I thought about that Lotto slogan – You’ve got to play to win, so I mentioned something like that. We discussed the importance of at least showing up if you want something – it won’t come to you if you’re sitting off in the corner somewhere. And we chatted about the value of participation, of pitching up for something, even if you didn’t know what it might yield.

He turned to carry on with his paper deliveries, only to come back a moment later.

“So, what’s the other ten percent?”

Ah, that’s the meat of it, I thought. So we spoke a bit more, about attitude and intention and what you can bring to the table and what you can share and how you are with other people. The other ten percent, surely, is our own individual, unique way of being. It’s things like dedication, commitment, humour, creativity, innovation, determination, compassion, openness, and so forth.

I might disagree with the maths, but showing up must be at least half the battle. If you don’t show up, no one ever gets to see your other 10%.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has called a stay away for 19 and 20 September. It is a continuation of their programme of action since last year, but they announced the dates only this week, and so far I haven’t heard much discussion of it or gotten a sense that people even know about it, much less are planning to take part.

Next week, 90% of life will be not showing up – at work, at the bank, in the shops, in the queues, at the beer halls, in the cafes, and so forth. There are plenty of reasons for Zimbabweans to be angry right now. There has been no national action about the price controls and shortages, and the country is getting hungrier and hungrier. The other ten percent – the ZCTU’s communications, mobilisation, meetings with business leaders, discussions with the general public, working with other organisations, its innovation and creativity in getting people inspired, its use of a range of media to inform people – will make all the difference.

Jokes aside

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Wednesday, September 12th, 2007 by Brenda Burrell

I’ve spent a couple of days this week at the Highway Africa Conference in Grahamstown, South Africa in the company of journalists encompassing old and new media, some formally trained, many untrained – bloggers, vloggers, editors and so on.

Not infrequently Zimbabwe was used as the extreme example of a place where things don’t work, of state interference in the media, of a people abused. And if not referenced in that manner, we were the brunt of the joke.

Notably none of these references mocked or denigrated Zimbabwe’s journalists. That in itself is informative – as if you don’t kick a people when they’re on their knees. For certainly Zimbabwean journalists, formally trained and amateur bloggers alike are deserving of constructive criticism. Exaggeration, opinion, slander, conjecture, rumour mongering and propaganda are frequently offered up as news and information. Partisan polarization has left little middle ground.

The increasing use of anonymity by Zimbabwe’s writers to protect the identity of the commentator is a worryingly negative trend. Some might say that this as a measure of our dictator’s influence. I suggest that it is a measure of our lack of commitment to stand up for what is rightfully ours – the right to communicate.