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Archive for January, 2008

What Do You Stand Up For?

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Friday, January 25th, 2008 by Natasha Msonza

Last year December I had the opportunity to observe all the proceedings of the ANC’s annual conference in Polokwane, South Africa on television. Though personally not a huge fan of Mbeki, I witnessed a sad but humiliating rebellion against a president who took South Africa through a decade of solid economic growth in support of one who sincerely believes that taking a bath after having unprotected sex with an infected partner minimizes risk of infection. I’m sorry but I am one of those who will never forgive, nor forget such ignorance especially coming from one who wants to rule a people someday.

Anyway, that was not my major concern. Watching the Polokwane proceedings got me really thinking about our own upcoming March harmonized elections. I long for the day opposition/dissent or whatever else ZANU- PF calls anyone that’s not for it, will not be demonized and brutalized for having a different opinion on things or for merely existing. I long for freedom of speech and expression. I long for accountability from campaigning political candidates like what’s happening in the USA. A chance to grill would be leaders on how, why and when they plan to deal with crucial aspects bedeviling this country, ranging from an economy in chaos to the collapse of the public service delivery system.

Above all, I worry what course of action each fellow citizen will take come March. I know most bone- weary, depressed and hungry Zimbabweans occupy one of three spheres: those who are apathetic, almost to the point of indifference and will not vote in the upcoming election. Those who would rather the MDC boycott the election and let ZANU- PF go it alone because they feel the latter should not be allowed to steal another election but concede to a transitional constitution and election postponement. The last group is of individuals who, no matter how impossible any effort on their part may seem, will still play their part.

March is not so far off and it is time we each start thinking which group we are joining come March. Understandably, a majority of us are really rather preoccupied with matters of survival alone but a decision still has to be made.

Though I know that most people intend to boycott the election, I feel one should not willingly neglect one’s duty to vote, no matter how hopeless it all seems. If not just for the hell of it, I wouldn’t grant any party such an easy victory, but give them a run for it.

At the risk of almost sounding crass, I ask, why deprive ourselves of hope? We have to believe there is a way out of this mess otherwise, what’s the point? Why study, why work, why do anything if it’s all going to hell? I recall vividly the words of a mentor who said, “No matter how badly any football team performs, have you ever seen them giving up mid match and sitting down on the pitch because there is no point in continuing? No. They play to the last whistle, even if they come out with nil.”

Vaclav Havel describes Hope as not ‘the willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed . . . Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.’

I am currently reading The Impossible Will Take a Little While, a compilation of short, inspirational, anecdotal stories by Paul Rogat Loeb. In one of the stories: The Optimism of Uncertainty the author points out the deliberate metaphor; Life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

He goes on to chronicle historical victories that were so unpredictable to be almost impossible:

“Who foresaw the revolution to overthrow the Tsar of Russia? Who would have predicted the bizarre shifts of World War II – the defeat of the German army with Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die? And then the post war world, taking a shape no-one could have drawn in advance: the Chinese Communist revolution which Stalin himself had given little chance. In other places, deeply entrenched dictatorships seemed suddenly to disintegrate from Portugal to Iran and Iraq. The end of World War II left two super powers with their respective spheres of influence and control, vying for military and political power. The United States and the Soviet Union soon each had enough thermonuclear bombs to devastate the earth several times over. The international scene was dominated by their rivalry, and it was supposed that all affairs, in every nation, were affected by their looming presence. Yet the most striking fact about these super powers was that, despite their size, their wealth, their overwhelming accumulation of nuclear weapons, they were unable to control events, even in those parts of the world considered to be their respective spheres of influence.”

Looking at this catalog of huge surprises, it is clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has again and again, proven vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organisation, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience.

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often in this century we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of powers that seemed invincible.

Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think. (Note how nervous those who hold it are.)

People do not have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is not only one of cruelty, but sacrifice, courage and compassion.

So, should March arrive, and ZANU-PF still refuses a transitional constitution and election postponement and all the other demands we have, would you really rather sit and do nothing at all?

Zimbabwe on millions of dollars a day

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Friday, January 25th, 2008 by Natasha Msonza

So, today I get to Fourth Street my usual time early in the morning on my way to work and I find a rowdy mob of people grouped where I board my commuter omnibus to Newlands. The fare is suddenly $2 million. Yesterday it was $1,5 million, and a few days before that, $1 million. Ok you might think so what, talking about the country’s problems has just become a cliche, nothing is newsworthy anymore. I tell you, witnessing a group of respectable men and women in their suits haggling with hwindis is newsworthy to me. Often, they would just meekly pay an arm and a leg to get to work and avoid the hassle. I mean, for some of us, we now fork out $8 million a day to get to and from work.

A friend of my mom’s resigned yesterday. I found the circumstances almost a tad comical. Her husband phoned her from the office of an optician where he was meant to collect a new set of spectacles for her. He told her that the cheapest, ugliest frame cost $46 million. He highlighted that her transport from Chitungwiza is $6 million daily and she is earning $50 million monthly. There was clearly no point in continuing work so he demanded she resign immediately that very day.

Well, I’m sick and tired of it all, no food, no water, no lights, no cash, and expensive transport. The list keeps growing. I live from day to day wondering what else will go wrong . . .

Pushing to the front

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Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 by Amanda Atwood

When I went to CABS last week, throngs of uniformed police and army personnel were pushing at the doors of the bank to be allowed in to access their cash. It felt like they were trying to pull rank, or take advantage of their role as “security personnel” to get served first.

Downstairs from our office, there were rising waves of angry shouting as again, a large mass of soldiers and police officers tried to get preferential treatment at the Intermarket Bank – this despite the fact that apparently there is a dedicated branch for them in town, which is where they’re supposed to go.

This cash crisis is squeezing people in the police and armed forces just as tightly as the rest of us. Rather than viewing their uniforms as an opportunity to be self-sacrificing, let others go in front of them, or maintain order when there is cash available, they’re taking advantage of their power, and the fear many Zimbabweans have for their uniforms, in order to sort out their own needs for cash.

Having witnessed a similar problem in town, a subscriber wrote in with these thoughts:

In Harare yesterday I saw long lines outside a number of CABS branches (I don’t have an account with them thank goodness) and in all cases I saw that the army, police etc. were lined up separately. I presume this is because they are entitled to preferential service.

I believe this is in violation of International Law as enshrined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments.

“Non-discrimination is one of the most accepted principles of international human rights. Everyone is entitled to enjoy human rights irrespective of their colour, race, gender, religion, ethnic, social or national origin, political or other opinion, property, poverty, disability, birth, lack of citizenship, sexual preference, or other status, for example, severe illness such as HIV / AIDS. Decisions on the conditions for promotion, the availability of products (I guess that also means one’s own money) or the allocation of supplier contracts should be taken without discrimination or regard to arbitrary preferences.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls on every individual and every organ of society to play its part in securing the observance of the rights set forth in the Declaration. Hence an organisation has a responsibility to safeguard human rights in its operations, as well as in its wider sphere of influence. Furthermore, under international law, there are some fundamental provisions that all are bound to observe. Breaches of these fundamental human rights entail liability under international law.

If CABS are made aware of the potential moral, criminal or other legal liability under International Law an organisation may be regarded as complicit in these abuses if it in some way authorises, tolerates or knowingly ignores the abuses committed by a connected organisation (in this case, such as CABS). In some cases, complicity may give rise to criminal or other legal liability. While the participation of the organisation may not directly cause abuse, complicity may consist of providing practical assistance or encouragement to actions that increase their extent. In other words, as I understand this, any individual or organisation dealing with CABS knowing they are committing these abuses will be tainted with the crime. In some cases, complicity may give rise to criminal or other legal liability under international law.

So if you can find out or start a campaign (workers whistle blowing) to find the details of internationally exposed connected organisations to the Reserve Bank (as with CABS) or any individual responsible for the abuses (e.g. going on a trip overseas) International Law can kick in. While case law is developing for complicity in international crimes, organisations in Europe and America are becoming so litigatious that I can imagine they will be very reluctant to be associated with the Reserve Bank or any responsible individual (as with CABS) if you shout loudly enough that they may be liable for complicity in international crimes.

Education in Zimbabwe – Gone are the days . . .

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Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 by Dennis Nyandoro

Something really needs to be done about our education sector.

When I was young, I used to admire teachers and enjoyed going to school. I remember when I was in grades 5-7, when my class teacher would invite me and my two friends to go to their houses at 12:45pm everyday to prepare lunch for him and the roommates that he shared his place with. No girls were allowed at the male teachers’ houses.

Preparing food took just a couple of minutes as there were plenty of tinned foods, and some packets of rice, spaghetti, etc. They had an admirable life, wore nice suits, and had plenty of food and money. They were equipped and ready to teach.

All this was because they were highly paid.

This was a primary school in the rural areas. Teachers were known to be among the highest paid. They were well dressed and were smart with the spirit of teaching; coming to a classroom holding two sticks of chalk; enjoying teaching and offloading data from their own heads.

Nowadays, it’s the opposite. Teachers are known as beggars. They are vendors inside their classrooms, teaching whilst selling their products like biscuits, sweets, chewing gums, pencils, pens, books, etc. They spend more time selling than teaching, in order to supplement their salaries.

Our teachers groomed us from zero grade to be what we are today, lawyers, presidents, doctors, professors you name it. Now we’re casting them aside like debris, and throwing them out of the picture. More money should be invested in education. Teachers are the drivers of this sector. To revive education, we should start with teachers, awarding them quarterly pay increases and monthly allowances, to motivate them and for our children to benefit from their enthusiasm for teaching.

Free and fair election is mere fantasy

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Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 by Amanda Atwood

I woke up to a text message this morning telling me that Morgan Tsvangirai, president of Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had been arrested. Checking the news as I write this, I see he’s been released.  Tsvangirai was taken by the police for questioning, in relation to a demonstration which the MDC has planned for today. The state has banned the protest. Police were already on alert in town at 7 this morning when I went through, and I watched the water cannons roll out in anticipation.

Zimbabwe’s “harmonised” Presidential, Parliamentary, Senate and Local Government elections are likely to be held in March this year, despite protests from opposition parties and civil society organisations that March is too soon for an election to be held that would truly be free and fair. Some have hoped that, with amendments to repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Broadcasting Services Act, there is some potential for a genuinely democratic election – if only these amendments were given enough time to operate, so that people could operate in a more open social and political environment before the election.

But incidents like Tsvangirai’s arrest challenge this optimism. In theory, Zanu PF has an interest in making these elections seem more democratic – it would legitimate the victory that they’re certain to claim. So why not just let the MDC’s demonstration go ahead, as a sly show of good faith, and to muffle the opposition’s claim that the ruling party isn’t playing fair?

It doesn’t really matter whether the election is in March or June. The outcome has already been decided, and it won’t have anything to do with what people put on their ballot papers. The amendments to the above mentioned legislation are paltry. Journalists and media houses weren’t consulted in relation to the AIPPA amendments which affect their work directly. The amendments to POSA make public meetings sound marginally more possible. But as we’ve seen today, so much of law is in enforcement, not just legislation.

The machinery around this upcoming election makes it susceptible to rigging – there will reportedly be more than 16,000 polling stations. The opposition, and civil society organisations, will be looking to recruit monitors into every polling station to keep an eye on things. Even if they find enough volunteers, with shortages of everything from food to cash to transport to candles and stationery, how will they get them to their polling stations, and how will they ensure they’re looked after and can do their jobs?

And, of course, there are the far, far more subtle ways in which this election will be rigged. Those same obstacles which will make it even more difficult for the MDC to monitor the polling stations also make it hard to campaign. How do you get your flyers distributed if you can’t get cash for bus fare? And how do you hope to get participation at your rallies if people are too busy queuing for cash, bread, sugar, or mealie meal to come? You could try a spontaneous campaign at a shopping centre, to take advantage of the captive audience. But wait, that would also be in violation of POSA . . . .

Cash barons – and the rest of Zimbabwe’s feudal hierarchy – explained

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Friday, January 18th, 2008 by Michael Laban

What is a ‘Cash Baron’? How does one become so? Does the King knight you? Is it a hereditary title, or is earned by you alone during your life? And is there a pecking order? King, Lord, Duke, Baron, Earl, Knight (of the bath, of the garter, of the $500 000 note, of the running sewage?) Squire . . .

How much do you need to get to each level? Does a Lord have $ 765 quadrillion in cash? And then a Duke has $ 852 trillion billion, a Baron $ 573 million billion, an Earl $445 million million and a knight (venerable order of the overflowing raw sewerage pipe) a hundred million? And the rest of us multi millionaires are venal peasants? Owing homage, soccage (or scrutage), or ‘you must stop for the sirenage’?

If you can print as much as you want (or more than you can possibly dream of), then you are the King, and if you do the printing you are the King’s flunky.

This is, of course, why we cannot ‘dollarise’. The King cannot print those. And since they have destroyed the economy, there is no revenue coming in (pay tax on what?) so you have to print the money to pay the army so it will not rise up and kill you. Did anyone else but me learn of the ‘diamonds and water syndrome’ for ‘A’ level economics? I have it all wrong of course, but that is the fault of illegal western sanctions.