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Archive for November, 2007

The milk run

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Thursday, November 22nd, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

On my run this evening I came upon a group of four men walking down the road ahead of me. They walked comfortably together, one in shorts, another with a cap jauntily perched on the top of his head. Each carried a small white packet – milk, I assumed. They turned back occasionally to stare at me as I approached, and I noted the ease with which they seemed to fill up the full width of a road designed to fit two cars comfortably.

“Hello Sister,” one called as I ran past.

“Hello Brother,” I responded.

“Madam I am selling this milk,” said another, holding up what I recognized as a 500ml packet of Dariboard milk.

I shook my head. “You buy milk at controlled prices at the shops and then sell it to other people for your own profit? Kwete.” I said firmly. Not interested.

I’ve been running even more than usual in an effort to keep my parasites at bay. I’m beginning to suspect the ZINWA water has finally caught up with me. I’ll get my blood tests back later this week, but in the meantime I’ve discovered that my bugs are happiest horizontal. Or on the move.

The latest cash shortages are wearing already frayed nerves even thinner. It took three separate trips to three different venues last week to gather up enough cash for the doctors bills and the lab tests. I overheard the owner of a nearby cafe telling her friend they’ll be closed next week if the cash situation doesn’t ease.

The queues are far longer at the CABS Blue Card section than at the Gold Class cubicle around the corner. For months, my colleagues have been urging me to “go gold.” There’s nothing special you have to do. There’s a “higher” minimum balance but it’s still a paltry sum – less than the bus fare into town, or a loaf of bread, if you could find one. Benefits include much shorter queues. But I remain irrationally attached to my worn, faded blue card. It refers to me as Mr, which is in turns irritating and amusing. And it leaves me in solidarity with the rest of the populace in times like this.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has set up its Delimitation Committee and has plans to begin this week with delimiting constituencies for the upcoming parliamentary elections. It’s no wonder they’re in a hurry. When you’re up against inflation at 14,800% and rising, every day counts.

Hard conversations: Critiquing Zimbabwe’s opposition party

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Thursday, November 22nd, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about disillusionment. About the value of careful, thoughtful assessment of a situation, and the dangers of both a too hardened cynicism, and a too softly idealistic heart. As a former MDC activist and staff member, I’ve become increasingly wary of many of the activities and decisions the party has undertaken. There is a part of me that is angry about that – an emotional part of me that feels betrayed, duped, my idealism taken advantage of. But I recognise that while passionate, whole hearted idealism has its attraction, perhaps a better contribution to Zimbabwe’s future is to be more constructively critical, thoughtfully pragmatic, and honestly questioning.

Recent actions by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), including the revamping of the National Women’s Executive, and reports of violence outside the MDC headquarters on the weekend have added to my wariness.

But there is a tension in the pro-democracy movement around expressing one’s dissatisfaction with the MDC. It’s seen as disloyal, or unhelpful. There is a general belief that “anything but Zanu PF” will do, and in the past, being too critical of the MDC was in some circles an unpopular position.

I’ve been pleased to see that shifting, not because I harbour a grudge against the MDC. Rather, it’s because I know that, in my own life, it’s when others are demanding of me, or challenge me to do better, that I pull up my socks a bit. I suspect organisations and political leaders behave similarly. Why should we settle for less? It is when we expect more from them that they excel.

Comments on the Zim Fight On discussion list today gave me a glimmer of hope. Quoting a New Zimbabwe article, Briggs Bomba pointed out some recent quotations by National Constitutional Assembly Chairperson Lovemore Madhuku in which he was critical of MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai, and sceptical of his capacity to govern Zimbabwe.

As Briggs points out,

The most important point I think is that if more people were to become as courageous as Madhuku has just done then the future of Zimbabwe’s democratic struggle can be saved. Otherwise if people keep playing it safe, afraid to express opinions they hold, we are going to be stuck with a sterile, slowly disintegrating and totally paralysing opposition force, closing off space to genuine new progressive initiatives yet completely incapable of championing the democratic struggle.

Comments on American immigration policies by Melissa Goodman in the Mail & Guardian this week made me think of the MDC. A small substitution of Goodman’s words is some useful advice for us here: “What the MDC needs most is to be engaged with others and open to criticism, not isolated from it.”

At its root, the word “conversation” means turning together; it’s a two-way process. The MDC must be open to criticism, and must welcome it with the spirit in which it is intended. To view it as thoughtful concern from people with a vision of the new Zimbabwe we could have if things were done differently. At the same time the rest of us must be committed to voicing our concerns without worrying about what others will think of us, or that our opinions might be unwelcome or unpopular. Not voicing our concerns will make us complicit in settling for less.

Seemingly oblivious

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Tuesday, November 20th, 2007 by Natasha Msonza

Residents at the garden flats where I stay are undecided whether or not to be angry with the little old Italian lady who stays by herself in one of the flats. Every time water comes back, she immediately sets her sprinkler valves strategically on her very green lawn and waters it for hours until the ground is soggy. More water flows freely into her flowerbed from a separate hosepipe. Admittedly, hers is probably the best yard on the premises, and the lawn and flowers are just marvellous. But in the face of the water crisis we are all experiencing, her idiosyncrasy smacks of selfishness to most tenants. What’s more, when the water comes, it has so little pressure that her turning on the outside taps somehow prevents the water from going into her immediate neighbours geysers. My family and I live right next door to her, and we are hardest hit.

Another thing is the combined water billing system. The old lady uses the most water yet is the most vocal each time the bill hikes. Seemingly unaware of anything, she continues to soak her yard at every opportunity. At one time, water was available only so briefly that by the time my mother got enough to soak her laundry, the taps were dry, and the old lady next door had been watering her yard again – meaning we had no reserve storage in our geyser for the next I don’t know how many days. I heard my Ma utter under her breath that some people just pretend to be blissfully ignorant and just won’t make necessary adjustments even to help others realise basic comforts. Some tenants go as far as saying she is a heartless racist still psychologically living in Rhodesia.

On another point, ever since my sisters changed schools owing to relocation, they are harassed daily by both staff and prefects for wearing black shoes instead of brown. Of course we would like very much to comply with proper school regalia regulations, but school shoes of any colour are now a scarce commodity wherever you search, from Bata to Meikles. Understandably, authorities can’t be blamed for wanting to maintain order but aren’t they also just pretending to be stubbornly ignorant of reality, and refusing to adjust? Should they? The same school authorities no longer bother to explain by letter as used to be the tradition, but now have this knack of instructing kids to bring certain amounts of money; say $500,000 or so at a time. My often-cynical mother conceives of this as daylight robbery by people “trying to subsidise their wages through child exploitation.”

I recall the words of one psychologist saying of World War One that some people simply mentally refuse to live in the present by being “seemingly oblivious” of the changes around them. They want to have their bacon and eggs even as they dwell in the shacks that were once mansions that got taken apart by scud missiles. Now between the old lady and the school authorities – I want to believe the former is just being that; an old lady. And the latter, well maybe they just cannot help themselves . . . though I doubt my Ma would agree with me.

Zimbabwe’s gay pageant defies political repression

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Friday, November 16th, 2007 by Bev Clark

Every year when the jacaranda trees in Zimbabwe are in lavender bloom, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) stage the annual Jacaranda Queen Drag Pageant. A big pom pom to GALZ for opening the closet doors and letting out some provocative entertainment when all around us the social space for free expression is being constrained.

Click here for some more photographs of the fabulously sexy men who took part in this year’s event at the Harry Margolis Hall in Harare.


Zimbabwe – the problem with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)

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Thursday, November 15th, 2007 by Catherine Makoni

I have problems with the MDC. People have tried to convince me that the MDC offers a viable alternative to ZANU PF but I am yet to be convinced. There seems to be the sentiment that there should be change for the sake of it. I know a lot of people will view my opinion as almost treasonous given what the ruling party has done to us in the 27 odd years that it has been in power, but I think the truth needs to be said. We need to avoid a repeat of our history under ZANU PF where we were so euphoric after the victory in 1980 that we sat back on our laurels while the country went to the dogs. If we are to vote in the anticipated elections in 2008, then we should do so with our eyes wide open AND we should not expect any miracles. Nor should we let down our guard. Never again should a group of individuals entrench themselves in power the way the current ruling party has done. Ever. Not even the MDC. Or should I say, especially not the MDC.

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Street vending – Zimbabwe style

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Wednesday, November 14th, 2007 by Amanda Atwood

I’m sitting in my parked car waiting for my friend at the dentist on the fringes of Harare’s City Centre. The tinted window of a dark blue car comes down as it approaches a group of men standing on the side of the road. “Pounds,” the driver says. The would-be seller on the street holds up two fingers and bends down to speak into the open window, calling “Two million, two million” as the car slowly drives past.

Money is big business here. No sooner had I dropped my friend and parked in some shade than someone was at my window offering to exchange any US dollars I might have for Zimbabwe dollars. When, indignant, I told him I live in Zimbabwe, I earn Zimbabwe dollars, why would I have US dollars, he said with a smile – “That’s okay. I can also buy your Zim dollars and give you US.”

When the third trader approaches my window, I say: “Okay, tell me your rates.” A million to one for the US. Two million to the Pound. But thinking of the parallel market rate I’d seen on the SW Radio Africa website, I say – “that seems a bit low, I can get 3 million to the Pound elsewhere.” He calls my bluff and asks me where I trade, claiming that he wants to know so that he can change some of his money at that better rate as well.

Women are present in this space, they occupy it, they wander in and out of it, but it’s the men who fill it. They drape themselves on the hood of a bakkie, or lean against the back of a car. They call out to one another across the street, making their deals boldly. When a car slows down they run after it in a pack, each hoping to be the one chosen for the deal. I think of the volume of trade, and how vulnerable one would be to cheating. If one Pound is two million Zimbabwe Dollars, it would be easy to shortchange a customer by a couple of hundred thousand here or there. And really, who is going to sit on the street counting off their millions?

During the hour that I wait I get offered freezits, peaches, brooms, baskets, sweets, cigarettes, and maputi. But none of the these vendors are as persistent as the foreign currency dealers.