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Archive for October, 2007

The art and soul of building peace

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Thursday, October 25th, 2007 by Bev Clark

The Moral Imagination is an important book to get hold of and spend some time with if you’re involved in conflict resolution and peace building. The author, John Paul Lederach, has mediation experience in a variety of countries including Nicaragua, Somalia, Northern Ireland and the Philippines. According to Lederach, peace building is both a “learned skill and an art”. He believes that people working for peace should regard their pursuit as a creative act.

In Chapter 2 Lederach includes four powerful stories of peace building from different countries including Colombia. In the Colombian example he looks at the emergence of a group called the Association of Peasant Workers of Carare (ATCC) and says “their first act was to break the code of silence. They developed ways of organizing and participating. Participation was open to anyone. The quota for entry was a simple commitment: Your life, not your money. This was expressed in the phrase “We shall die before we kill”. They developed a series of key principles to guide their every action.”

During these challenging times in the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe, I think its useful for us to consider how we can apply these principles while working for peace:

1. Faced with Individualization: Solidarity.

2. Faced with the Law of Silence and Secrecy: Do everything publicly.

3. Faced with Fear: Sincerity and disposition to dialogue. We shall understand those who do not understand us.

4. Faced with Violence: Talk and negotiate with everyone. We do not have enemies.

5. Faced with Exclusion: Find support in others. Individually we are weak, but together we are strong.

6. Faced with the need for a Strategy: Transparency. We will tell every armed group exactly what we have talked about with other armed groups. And we will tell it all to the community.

Polyester and plentiful shelves

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Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

Shops in 1981Shops in 2007I had a look at the SW Radio Africa website, Spot the Difference, and I hardly knew where to begin.

In the picture of the shop in 1981, the shelves are stocked, the shoppers’ trolleys are full, the electricity is on inside the shop, and best of all, the prices? 28 cents.

Today? Barren shelves, empty trolleys, no power, and prices heading towards hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars, not fractions of them. When Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono delivered his Mid-Year Monetary Policy Review on October 1st he said, among other things:

It is against this background that I can say without fear of retraction or of being misquoted that it will not be very long before we see visible supply improvements on the ground. We should, by the end of this month [October], see the return of mazoe [orange syrup], soft drinks, cooking oil, soap, milk, bread, sugar and animal feeds on the shelves at affordable [cost to consumers], but economically viable prices to the suppliers.

With one week to go in the month, Gono’s promises of affordable, abundant commodities in our shops are looking increasingly unlikely. To be able to nip out to the shops and buy a packet of biscuits for 28 cents, I think I could stomach the polyester dresses and the over sized glasses. Now if only I had enough ZESA to recharge the battery in my time travel machine . . .

Bridging security in Harare

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Wednesday, October 24th, 2007 by Bev Clark

You wouldn’t imagine coming across cars doubled parked in the official Meikles Hotel car park would you? But there they were blocking up the works when I was trying to find parking last Friday. A colleague and I were visiting one of those high security places which Natasha referred to in her blog, Our Own Racists. Unsurprisingly we had a similar experience except this time we were two white women albeit with a sizable age difference. So at the front door the female security guard insisted on looking in our bags and that we hand over our cell phones. She gave my bag a cursory glance which is just as well because she’d need to don latex gloves on account of the fetid bits and pieces that lurk within. My colleague’s bag had a much more thorough going over and finally the security guard demanded that she hand it over. But she pointed indignantly at me and said, well what about her bag then? In response the security guard just shrugged and both our bags bridged security.

After our meeting we thought we’d treat ourselves to coffee and something to eat in the lounge at Meikles Hotel. One of the problems in Zimbabwe right now is trying to work out the correct value of goods to ascertain whether the price is a rip-off. I looked at the menu and saw that a toasted sandwich cost Z$1.3 million which means that a teacher’s salary is equivalent to about 12 toasted sandwiches per month. I thought I’d rather go for a piece of anchovy toast, some marmite toast and a coffee. The waiter returned 5 minutes later to say that there wasn’t any anchovy so I changed my order to marmite toast and a scone. The waiter returned 5 minutes later to say that there wasn’t any marmite. So I had a scone, without butter. And this is a 5 * hotel.

When we left and went to get the car I asked my colleague how much money she reckoned I should take out for 3 hours parking. We agreed on Z$300 000. Turns out it cost Z$40 000.

This upside/downess of Zimbabwe reminds me of an email I got recently from a friend who suggests . . .

Someone this week compared life in Zimbabwe at the moment to ‘living in a blender’. It is very apt. People are discernibly more stressed than they were 3 months ago. The effects are quite disturbing – as people fight to survive – there seems to be less tolerance and love available somehow and a narrow feeling of isolation and separation emerges. It is challenging to be in this space as we go through periods when we lose the thread to that which affirms and connects our lives.

Potentially unviewable experience

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Monday, October 22nd, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

Eyes on Zimbabwe is a new feature on Zimbabwe on the Open Society Institute website. They are trying to raise awareness about the crisis in Zimbabwe in advance of Parliamentary, Presidential and local government elections to be held next year. The highlight of the site is “Zimbabwe: The Fight to Free a Country,” a video which apparently “combines footage from inside Mugabe’s police state with testimony from torture survivors, activists, and lawyers who have witnessed the regime’s repression first hand.” The site also features links to additional resources, and a petition and letter to the UN which you can fill in on line.

It sounds like an interesting video – and one which plenty of people here could benefit from watching. It seems like people living outside the country, with the benefits of TV and the internet, often have greater access to independent, accurate news on events in Zimbabwe than do the vast majority of people living here.

I’m lucky enough that the broadband connection at the office means I can see the Timeline (which I couldn’t view on my dial-up access at home), even if it’s a Flash Player page which on my browser remains stuck on 1980. But even with the high-speed connection at work I can’t watch the video. Instead, an error message appears: “This player requires a faster connection to enable smooth playback of video. The connection speed detected will cause a potentially unviewable experience.”

VOA also recently posted a video of activism in Zimbabwe. That one at least includes a dial up version which can be viewed from here, even if the image quality is so poor as to make it barely watchable. This page also links to other VOA videos on tourism, food shortages and hyperinflation.

I’m hoping some people out there in the developed world of high speed connections can view these materials and leave some comments that help people here know what they are all about.

These videos are just the latest contributions to a growing pool of information on Zimbabwe that is conceptualised and developed outside the country. The government’s Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s which left over 20,000 dead, were well protected from the bulk of international news attention, and at the time went largely unnoticed. The age of Internet, digital photography and satellite connectivity means that the current economic collapse and political turmoil are captured, recorded, and beamed around the world. But ordinary Zimbabweans don’t have access to satellite television or high speed Internet connections, and they remain stuck with state radio, state television, and word of mouth.

I’m all for increasing international awareness in the hopes that it eventually increases international pressure which, in turn, eventually contributes to the change here. But where are the local actions from this global thinking? Is the Soros foundation burning thousands of DVDs of its film and distributing them in the high density areas of Zimbabwe’s cities, where DVD players have become surprisingly common place? Is Studio 7 VOA News making newspaper versions of its Shona and Ndebele broadcasts and distributing them among rural communities?

International attention matters. But it’s no substitute for local pressure. And critical to building that local activism is making a range of materials that inform, inspire, challenge and motivate Zimbabweans readily accessible to them. Let’s see more international support for these locally produced and locally disseminated information initiatives – rather than one more internet video that is potentially unviewable for Zimbabweans.

Needless, paranoid brutality

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Friday, October 19th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

View more images from this demonstrationNot that police brutality is ever acceptable. But treatment of National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) activists this week challenge hopes that talks between Zanu PF and the MDC, and the two parties’ recent agreements on Constitutional Amendment 18, mean a softening in the government’s position on freedom of expression. The state may be planning on revising repressive legislation such as and AIPPA, but in the meantime, freely expressing dissent remains as challenging as ever.

According to the NCA, over 400 people participated in a peaceful march in Harare against the 18th Constitutional Amendment. The demonstration was interrupted by the police, and those demonstrators who did not run away in time were rounded up by the police and forced to sit outside Herald House while the police took turns beating them. The photo on the left gives an evocative image of police’s heavy-handed treatment of these demonstrators, even once they were seated and clearly not posing any physical or immediate threat to anyone. You can see more on the SW Radio Africa website.
The NCA reported that 34 people sustained serious injuries from these beatings, and were taken to hospital for treatment.

The dangerous acts these activists committed which caused the police to lash out at them like this? Daring to hold a demonstration and carrying placards reading things like: “No to Amendment 18,” or “No to treachery.”

Home based neglect?

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Friday, October 19th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

A friend of mine volunteered in Masvingo for a few months doing household surveys of rural families in that province. The main focus of the project was to find out how families were being affected by HIV/AIDS, and what kind of coping strategies they had developed. She was shocked by how poorly the majority of families she interviewed were doing. HIV was hitting the adult population hard, making it difficult for families to carry out the basic chores and activities they needed to do to survive. Home based care had been an option for some of these families, but she commented that it was becoming more a case of “home based neglect.” When the price controls hit and goods vanished off the shelves, relatives and caregivers in many cases stopped visiting. Whether they were too busy trying to feed their own families, or too embarrassed to visit their charges empty handed, she didn’t know. But either way, they stopped visiting, and those dependent on their assistance were suffering.

Her story reminded me of Tafadzwa Muropa’s recent reflections on home based care. As she put it,

I would like to share my experiences and views in relation to how I see the state of Home Based Care in Zimbabwe and how it is evolving, since most care givers are women, who have a double burden of taking care of the clients who are bedridden in most cases, and also have other responsibilities at home.

My concern lies in the state’s response to the question of not acknowledging the efforts put by women in HBC, by offering them stipends, allowances, or remuneration, especially during these harsh economic times.

Her piece raises concerns similar to those my friend found. Home based care provides individuals with care and support which the state is not currently providing them.

In a recent interview, Lynde Francis, the director of The Centre, observed that the current economic situation is so bad, some Zimbabweans are trying to pretend they are HIV-positive, so that they can benefit from the services and food parcels that those living with HIV have access to.

But when will government prioritise care for its citizens and step into the void which home based care givers and other service organisations are now trying to fill? As those who can increasingly opt-out of Zimbabwe and try their luck in the Diaspora, who is left to care for those in need? How do we support care givers so that they stay engaged, and don’t give up because the are feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of? Home based care givers are currently providing an essential service of physical, nutritional, moral, psychological and even spiritual support to many of the quarter of all Zimbabweans currently estimated to be infected with HIV. Ever adaptable, Zimbabweans are finding new and creative ways to adapt to the growing strain of life here. Even as we do so, let us not forget the importance of demanding that government also fulfill its responsibilities.