Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists
Watching TV the other night I was horrified to see groups of South African men marching through townships in South Africa brandishing weapons of all descriptions from hammers through to axes, baying for the blood of foreigners living in South Africa. Equally horrifying were the images of members of the South African police force standing back nonchalantly watching victims writhe on the ground in pain from their assault.
These xenophobic attacks are appalling and unacceptable as are the daily high levels of violence that South African women experience in “the rainbow nation”.
Amnesty International, in their 2008 report on the state of the world’s human rights stated the following on South Africa:
High levels of sexual and other forms of violence against women continued to be reported.
According to police statistics, reported incidents of rape had decreased by 4.2 per cent over the previous six years. However, between April 2006 and March 2007, 52,617 rapes were reported. There were also 9,327 reported cases of “indecent assault” – including anal rape and other types of sexual assault which did not then fall within the definition of rape. In December new crime statistics for the period April to September 2007 included 22,887 reported rapes.
Police officials reported to Parliament that between July 2006 and June 2007, police recorded 88,784 incidents of “domestic violence” in terms of the 1998 Domestic Violence Act (DVA). The Department of Justice reported that over 63,000 protection orders were issued by the courts between April 2006 and March 2007. However, the ICD reported in November that of 245 police stations audited in 2006, only 23 per cent were compliant with their obligations under the DVA, ranging from none in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces to all of those audited in the Western Cape.
Women experiencing violence and service-providing organizations told Amnesty International that while some police facilitated women’s access to protection orders, others referred complainants back to their families, or failed to seize dangerous weapons, or refused to take any steps unless the complainant laid criminal charges first.
For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable. For every boy who is burdened with the constant expectation of knowing everything, there is a girl tired of people not trusting her intelligence. For every girl who is tired of being called over-sensitive, there is a boy who fears to be gentle, to weep. For every boy for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity, there is a girl who is called unfeminine when she competes. For every girl who throws out her E-Z-Bake Oven, there is a boy who wishes to find one. For every boy struggling not to let advertising dictate his desires, there is a girl facing the ad industry’s attacks on her self-esteem. For every girl who takes a step toward her liberation, there is a boy who finds the way to freedom a little easier.
Poster from CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective
This morning four of us piled into a car and went to observe a Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) gathering in downtown Harare. They wanted to deliver a petition to the Zambian Embassy requesting SADC to get more energetically involved in helping to solve the crisis in Zimbabwe. I thought that WOZA’s tactic of getting people to witness their event in order to provide factual and independent accounts is a good one. WOZA initiated their march at the UNDP building and they had reached Julius Nyerere Way when a bakkie full of riot police arrived to “put them in order”. What interested me was the behaviour of the police; they didn’t seem terribly excited or keen on beating the WOZA women. One of the women taken away was Jenni Williams, WOZA’s tireless co-ordinator.
I’ve been reading various news reports and articles by Zimbabweans that emphasise the need for Zimbabweans to go and vote in huge numbers in the presidential run-off. Of course a very high turnout of opposition voters will make it more difficult for Mugabe to steal the election, but steal it he will. In which case I wonder if the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has a post election strategy in place this time. We are likely to see a re-run of the last election when the MDC claimed victory but failed to convert their win. As I’ve written before, the liberation of Zimbabwe will only happen when Zimbabweans and the leadership of the MDC realise that we have to do more than vote and hope that the international community will come to our rescue.
Working out a post election strategy is not easy in a dictatorship, but, whether we like it or not, we have to.
Public actions like WOZA’s today give me some hope. But their actions need to be multiplied and replicated all over Harare and other parts of Zimbabwe to create sustained pressure on the illegitimate Mugabe regime.
At this time the MDC should not be putting their efforts into printing yet another batch of election posters, or fliers. They should be:
- forming resistance cells and collaborating with a variety of pressure groups like WOZA and the NCA to create rolling actions when the election is stolen
- lobbying key business leaders to shut down the country once the election is stolen: banks, fuel providers, taxi operators, teachers, supermarket owners
- bringing the armed forces and police onto the side of justice
It is largely agreed that the majority of Zimbabweans (including members of Zanu PF) and personnel within the armed forces and the police want Mugabe to go. It is a minority that want him in power to further their own corrupt and power hungry agendas. Therefore we need to stretch the regime to bursting point, and burst it will. But only if we refuse to be complicit in our own oppression.
Some Zimbabweans, as well as the MDC leadership have said that they won’t organise protest marches because the army will fire upon civilians. This is already happening in the rural areas and the high density areas where people have been murdered, assaulted and made homeless. If the MDC and Zimbabweans continue to use this excuse for inaction, then it isn’t Mugabe who is oppressing us, it is ourselves.
Power itself is not derived solely through violence. Governmental power is frequently violent in nature, but it is primarily maintained through oppression and tacit compliance of the majority of the governed. Since silence and passivity is interpreted by the government as consent, any significant withdrawal of compliance will restrict or challenge governmental control. Struggle and conflict are often necessary to correct injustice. People’s apathy in the face of injustice implicates them in the moral responsibility for that injustice. (For more, click here)
The liberation of Zimbabwe will be achieved because of a variety of interventions, including:
- creative and courageous leadership in the opposition
- creative and courageous leadership in civil society organisations
- regional pressure
- international pressure
- internal pressure
- the withdrawal of co-operation by ordinary citizens
- the non-cooperation of the business community
- the withdrawal of support for Mugabe by the police and the armed forces
And I believe the most important of these is sustained internal pressure.
I’ve just spent a week in Las Vegas. Not my first choice of destination but an award ceremony took me there. As a Zimbabwean I got a variety of comments, like:
- Zimbabwe? You don’t live there do you?
- What’s in your bag – all your money?
- Ag shame man, how do you cope?
When I checked into my hotel I was charmed by the young receptionist who looked at my passport, and then at me, and exclaimed:
No Way! When I was at high school my friends and I used to talk about where we wanted to visit and I always said Zimbabwe because it sounded cool and I didn’t know where it was.
Then at a clothing store when I handed over my ID, the sales assistant said she’d quite like to live in a place like Zimbabwe. But she changed her mind when I said that there wasn’t a Starbucks.
One of the aspects that I found difficult traveling as a Zimbabwean was how I became so identified as Zimbabwe the country and all that’s wrong with it. Whilst it is certainly appropriate that horrified looks accompany any mention of Zimbabwe, because of the truly appalling situation here, I’m looking forward to the day when our country isn’t headline news because of violence and sadness.
The vast amount of email that I came home to revolved around the high levels of violence that we Zimbabweans are experiencing. The violence is being orchestrated by Zanu PF. But in The Standard published on 25th May, there’s a full page advertisement placed by the ruling party which says that Mugabe’s fist is against white imperialism, not against Zimbabweans. Apparently, according to Zanu PF, “support comes from persuasion not from pugilism”.
The kind of persuasion that cuts off a person’s lips, and cuts out their tongue? This is what was inflicted on Tonderai Ndira, a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activist who was abducted, tortured and murdered recently.
In a recent article in the British Medical Journal, Roger England suggests that UNAIDS should be shut down. Over the years, there has been much ink spilled over the issue behind England’s argument. Are HIV and AIDS exceptional? Or instead, is HIV and AIDS something that ought to be addressed in balance with other health issues and within efforts to improve health care overall?
I favour the exceptional argument, largely because I view HIV and AIDS – yes, it is a very real health issue – but on top of as well as intertwined with its biomedical realities, HIV and AIDS is an issue of ideology. About ten years ago an extremely astute and very cool Botswanan woman questioned my interest in HIV/AIDS in Africa, she said: Why do Westerners care so much about HIV/AIDS when Africans have been dying of malaria for much longer? Good point. Why such interest?
It started with Ronald Reagan ignoring the virus because it was (predominately) infecting gay men. Now it’s George W. Bush and PEPFAR’s over-reliance on promoting abstinence. For these persons of power and others, part of the motivation behind interest in HIV/AIDS is to use the virus and the disease as a forum to spread a particular set of beliefs which in turn attempt to dictate a conservative stance on what constitutes appropriate sexual behaviour. It is an interest with shades of both religious fundamentalism and imperialism. But of course, the two have a history of co-mingling, particularly when you consider the convergence of missionaries and colonisers in Africa. For many (myself included), in addition to addressing a health issue, interest in HIV/AIDS in Africa (as exceptional) is to combat the ideology of Reagan, Bush, and anyone else who narrow-mindedly thinks we actually live in (and/or ought to live in) a world that defines mutually consensual sex as occurring only between men and women, in one way/position, and only for the purposes of reproducing.
There are near endless cases where this dilemma exception or folded into something larger comes into play in our thinking. For example: Why the exception of Africa Day? As far as I know, we don’t have days to celebrate the six other continents. HIV and AIDS as an issue of ideology lends insight into the importance of Africa Day. Over the last few years the availability of HIV and AIDS medications on the African continent has increased. But this came only after 2001 when, then director of the US Agency for International Development (UASID), Andrew Natsios was hesitant to implement ARV programmes on the continent. He explained his reason to the Boston Globe and before the US Congress: Africans cannot tell time; thus, not able to adhere to the regimen for taking the medications There was more to Natsios’ hesitancies (i.e., the need to improve health care systems overall), yet his comments revealed all too common views held by some in the United States: Africa as a homogenous continent full of folks who have not kept up with the modern world. Continuing to dismantle such lines of thinking is one of the many reasons there is need to embrace the argument of exception and both critically engage HIV/AIDS in Africa and celebrate Africa Day.