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Archive for October, 2007

Harare, a bit of this and that

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Tuesday, October 16th, 2007 by Bev Clark

In some ways things are looking up.

When I came to work the other day I saw two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) vehicles in the car park. The vehicles were clearly sign written with the MDC name and slogan. This is progress because I can’t ever recall MDC vehicles being so identifiable. Perhaps their supporters will also be able to wear pro-opposition t-shirts without getting beaten up. When we talk (and talk and talk) about free and fair elections and an environment conducive to campaigning then we have to take into account whether Zimbabweans live in an atmosphere where they can wear pro-MDC t-shirts. A small point one might think, but the devil is in the detail.

On my way to the vet yesterday I drove past a stand of pine trees which look like they’re being illegally felled. Clearly in this instance its not the struggling person on the street who needs fuel for cooking, its the chefs who are intent on pillaging every corner of this country for short term personal gain. Of course one of the major frustrations in Zimbabwe is how to get recourse to the law and have this and other types of illegal activity addressed. I’ve written to the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) but it seems that they can only send out emails and that they don’t know how to answer them. I’ve telephoned Environment Africa and they seem impotent. I’ve written to a number of Zimbabwean media houses and journalists requesting them to do a little bit of investigative reporting, but I’ve had no response. The environment is not a side issue and should be treated with more respect by the general public, civil society organisations and the ruling party. A friend in the office suggested putting plastic bags over the chef tree fellers heads to illustrate to them how much we need trees.

Once I got to the vet I forked out Z$18 million for medication. I’m still recovering. I did however have a light hearted moment when a woman in the waiting room started talking about a 2007 calendar published to raise funds for a group called SOAP (Support Old Age Pensioners). The calendar has 12 pictures of guys with their shirts off. She flicked it open to September and looked directly at me and said “isn’t he hunky?”. I almost said well I’d prefer to be looking at women but stopped short not wanting her to fall flat on her face. I had enough money left over to buy two cow hooves for my dogs. They’re very cheap – Z$10 000/each and the dogs have endless pleasure nibbling at them for hours on end – the only negative side effect is foul hoof breath.

Grabbing a beer in Zimbabwe

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Friday, October 12th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood


The beer flowed fast and furious at last weekend’s Chibuku Road to Fame Finals at Glamis Arena in Harare last weekend. The Road to Fame music contest features groups from the country’s ten provinces. This spectator is enjoying his Chibuku – an opaque beer served in containers reminiscent of scud missiles.

To use this image contact Taurai Maduna on khulumani [at] gmail [dot] com

High price for freedom

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Friday, October 12th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

050214woza_hre2.jpgAcross Zimbabwe, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), is known for its courage and determination. It is one of the few organisations which is regularly in the streets, protesting against government policies and demanding that its concerns be heard.

Since 2003, WOZA has been conducting non-violent actions across the country as women (and more recently men) join together to fight for their rights. They have held sit-ins at Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) offices to demand power to the people. To raise funds and protest the NGO Bill in 2004, they walked 440 kilometres from Bulawayo to Harare, facing blisters, hunger, dehydration and arrest along the way. They have held demonstrations in Bulawayo, Harare, Mutare, Masvingo, Lupane, Gweru, Filabusi and more. Their Valentine’s Day actions, to show that the power of love can overcome the love of power, have become annual events across the country.

Their bravery inspires Zimbabweans. But a recent report highlights the price WOZA women pay for defending their freedoms, and those of the nation. The report takes a random sample of just 15% of the 2,200 WOZA members interviewed earlier this year about their activities and human rights violations they have experienced. The survey data from the larger sample is still being processed, but the preliminary report provides a powerful reminder that freedom certainly comes at a price.

WOZA member are at risk not only during their demonstrations, but are also victimised by the police for their participation and are isolated for later mistreatment. According to the document:

As this report was being finalised six women and a one and a half year old child were abducted by Law and Order police officers from their homes in Bulawayo during the early hours of the morning. They were taken to a mountain overlooking a river and told to tell the ‘truth’ about the whereabouts of their leaders (Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu). They were shown ropes and rocks and told they would be thrown into Khami Dam if they did not divulge information required by police officers. It was only the casual appearance of tourists, presumed to be journalists, which alarmed the officers who decided to return them to their homes, threatening that if they exposed their ordeal they would be killed.

Another recent incident was the arrest of 19 members, both male and female, from a sports stadium in Masvingo where they were playing netball and soccer. They spent 48 hours in custody and then had to ‘buy’ their freedom by paying admission of guilt fines. Another two members who went to the police station to bring them food were arrested and spent 48 hours in custody before having to also ‘buy’ their freedom.

The survey reports that 73% of WOZA members have been arrested at least once. Some members have been arrested over 25 times. Over half have been detained longer that Zimbabwe’s statutory limit of 48 hours without being brought to court. 40% of the sample have suffered physical assault, most generally at the hands of the police who arrested them, and 26% needed medical treatment for their injuries.

Despite this mistreatment WOZA marches on. Their humour, action, song, fliers, banners and creativity feed a spring of hope that may one day flood the nation.

Take it. Or leave it?

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Thursday, October 11th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

Raymond Majongweaudio.gif Listen to Raymond Majongwe, Secretary General of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) speak about teachers standing up for themselves.

Following a two week teacher sit-in and a one week strike in which an estimated 90% of teachers across Zimbabwe refused to go to work and demanded higher salaries, government has agreed to increase teachers’ wages to Z$14 million per month for the lowest paid teacher and up to Z$24 million for the highest paid.

This is a marked improvement over the paltry salaries teachers were previously earning but sees teachers still earning below the Poverty Datum Line. Taken at the widely used parallel market rate, the teacher’s wage increase translates to USD 28 a month for the lowest paid teacher – less than a dollar per day. And that is at today’s exchange rate. As inflation further erodes the Zimbabwe dollar, that wage will be worth even less in a week’s time, and next to nothing by the end of the year.

So what do the teachers do? Do they accept the offer on the table, or hold out for something better?

The wage increase currently being offered is a victory for the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, which led the call for the strike. Even though the PTUZ claims a membership of around 13,000 of Zimbabwe’s 110,000 teachers, 90% of all teachers participated in the strike. At meetings of PTUZ structures in Harare, Mashonaland West, Manicaland, Masvingo, the Midlands and Bulawayo on Tuesday 9 October, all provinces except for Bulawayo were in favour of extending the strike until a new demand (Z$65 million per month basic salary plus transport and housing allowances) is agreed to. Again, at the parallel market rate, this would work out to less than USD 175 / month – not an exorbitant amount for a teacher to ask to be paid.

But compared to other industries in Zimbabwe, it sounds like a lot. Currently, doctors gross Z$6-10 million per month, and have also been on a go-slow of late to demand a wage increase. A deal was struck last week with the Apex Council, which negotiates on behalf of all civil servants. While details of this agreement haven’t been released, it looks like the 420% wage increase being offered to teachers is what doctors and other civil servants will also be given. If other civil servants accept this, but PTUZ members refuse to go back to work, they risk distancing themselves from their fellow civil servants at a time when they need to be working together. They might also lose public sympathy from parents and other Zimbabweans who are struggling to make ends meet and are themselves earning far less. If other teachers go back to school and PTUZ members remain on strike, these teachers might be isolated and lose their jobs.

The PTUZ leadership faces a difficult decision as national and provincial representatives meet in Harare today. But regardless of the outcome the fact that teachers are even willing to consider demanding more than they are being offered is an encouraging indicator of things to come.

Africa has produced great leaders of liberation and conciliation. Now it needs leaders of development

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Wednesday, October 10th, 2007 by Bev Clark

An essay entitled Beyond Mandela by Onyekachi Wambu caught my eye today and it reminded me of a quote that we included in a recently published Kubatana electronic newsletter. Michelle Gavin, an international affairs fellow at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations suggests that it is necessary to avoid the trap of embracing “an anyone-but-Mugabe approach while the system stays the same”. She recommended an emphasis on better governance – adherence to the rule of law, an end to political violence, and free and fair elections.

As we approach yet another election how are we, the citizens of Zimbabwe, investigating, analyzing, debating and reviewing what the political opposition stands for? If we don’t snap out of this “anyone but Mugabe” mode it is almost certain that we will, if a free and fair election takes place (very doubtful), be voting in a new government with the same corrupt and flawed systems in place.  As Onyekachi Wambu states in the context of South Africa, and the same applies to Zimbabwe, “we require a partnership between leader and led, where there is genuine two-way communication and accountability as we move to deliver on the promises of liberation – peace, safety, economic prosperity and dignity.”

Below is the full text of Wambu’s essay

Last weekend I drove through Parliament Square to catch my first glimpse of the Nelson Mandela statue. As I drew closer to the monument, which was smaller than I expected, I saw a black family sitting at the foot of the outstretched arms, having their picture taken. Mother, daughter, father – drawn to the square, to Nelson.

Two days later I was passing again, on a bus. The scene was repeated: another black family, in Mandela’s embrace, pride on their faces. Nelson, drawing black people into this public space, his healing magic melting away years of exclusion and bitterness, redefining the meaning of the square for us. In time, might we even begin to speak of Nelson’s Square?

There is a reason to cheer – but cheer what, exactly? What does his statue symbolise for the black families who will visit? Some, including the great man himself, have spoken about it representing freedom and liberation. But this is too simple in a way, neatly packaging a messy period, and one with consequences that have yet to unravel.

But in discussions about black leadership some of my friends and colleagues have over the years voiced great hostility to Mandela, believing he was lauded by the west because he sold out on the key issues of land and the economy – and nobody ended up in The Hague for crimes committed under apartheid. For them, the statue might then encapsulate this story of betrayal, from the idealised clarity of militant imprisonment to the later, post-prison compromise.

Even if one accepts the underlying sentiment of such an analysis regarding the deal struck, on a human level it overlooks any appreciation of the suffering endured by Mandela and the generation who spent decades in prison. His detractors seem to demand even more sacrifice – like their martyred heroes Steve Biko or Patrice Lumumba – rather than the gentle denouement of honourable retirement. The heavy burden of black leadership was suddenly immediate and sobering.

Looking at the range of post-independence African leaders, the common perception has been of corrupt and venal individuals, brutal dictators and tyrants, and sit-tight presidents for life – very few of whom have improved the lot of their people. Like all stereotypes, it captures an element of truth, but the reality is more complex. Later this month Mo Ibrahim, one of the continent’s richest men, after assessing the performance of the continent’s leaders in a sort of beauty contest, will offer the “winner” $5m – effectively a bribe to persuade them to do the right thing.

In this year of commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade, I hope the statue and Ibrahim’s award will enable us to open a dialogue about black leadership. After all, Mandela and his Robben Island colleagues evoke another great generation from an earlier period on San Domingo, in the Caribbean, who secured the first victory against slavery, constitutional racism and white dictatorship. Toussaint L’Ouverture, the great conciliator and leader of that group of liberators, had been imprisoned by Napoleon Bonaparte, who betrayed his own promises to L’Ouverture as well as the ideals of the French revolution. As the struggle for liberation continued, L’Ouverture was replaced by the uncompromising Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who massacred whites on the island on the way to establishing an independent and free state, Haiti.

Two hundred years later, Mandela would forgive white South Africa. We are now in the post-liberation phase, and the quest for development is now the measure of the leadership needed from Africans.

Ali Mazrui, one of the contributors to a book on African leadership I have edited, rightly points out that over this 200-year period, people of African descent have produced an extraordinary number of leaders of liberation and conciliation, but have been poor in producing effective leaders of development – something the Ibrahim “beauty” index should address. I don’t believe these leaders of development need be Moses figures.

We require a partnership between leader and led, where there is genuine two-way communication and accountability as we move to deliver on the promises of liberation – peace, safety, economic prosperity and dignity. In the end, finally looking up into those outstretched arms, I was glad the statue of Nelson was not that big, that it had human proportions. After all, it is in our hearts that men become mountains.

28 Stories of AIDS in Africa

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Monday, October 8th, 2007 by Bev Clark

I’ve been reading a book entitled 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa compiled by Stephanie Nolen. The publicity for the book states

In 28, you’ll meet the doctor dodging bullets as she runs a makeshift clinic in war-torn Congo, hear why Nelson Mandela decided to go public about the cause of his son’s death, encounter the trucker who has spent a lifetime picking up prostitutes on the lonely highways of East Africa, and have an audience with the Botswanan beauty queen proud to be crowned ‘Miss HIV Stigma-free’. Stephanie Nolen’s eloquent and sympathetic book paints a fresh and inspiring portrait of Africa in crisis, making it impossible for us to ignore and impossible to forget.

Zimbabwean, Prisca Mhlolo shares her story in this remarkable book. You can read her account here and we encourage you to buy 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa online. Below is a short excerpt from Prisca’s story . . .

All the anger shock and pain of that moment were clear in Prisca’s face twenty later years later. “The way she said it was something else: AIDS! Where did the AIDS come from? I looked down at my daughter in my lap and she was not a child any more, she was something-she was now AIDS to me. I didn’t want anything to do with that child. I took her and threw her-she hit the corner of the desk and got a big cut. She collapsed. And I ran from that hospital into the street screaming. Doctors were coming and they wanted to get hold of me but they couldn’t because I was running. In Mazoe Street, just by the entrance, I collapsed. The next thing I knew, I woke up and it was two weeks later.”

When she awoke in a hospital bed with her husband standing next to her, she turned to him in anguish. “I said, ‘Bruce, we are dying, we are already dead.’ He said, ‘Why?’ I told him about Agnes. I told him, ‘Because of AIDS. ‘I’m a moving grave as you see me.’ That’s what I told him.