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Archive for May, 2008

Not your kind of African

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Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 by James Hall

Dear Mr Mbeki

You made a famous speech at the beginning of your presidency about being an African. You also launched an ambitious and laudable project for the African Renaissance. Your place in history was guaranteed before you even started but your recent history of “No Aids, No Crime and No crisis” has only served to visit a torrent of ridicule on the man who is meant to represent the new African leadership.

From your pronouncements over the last few years, it is clear that your version of the African Renaissance meant that you were going to choose to work to banish all forms of stereotypes regarding the African man. Unfortunately, you have been so eager to do so that you have probably reinforced the very stereotypes you were working to dissolve. In fact, you have actually worsened the image of the black leader in the eyes of the world giving opportunities to newspapers like the Washington Times to label you a “Rogue Democrat.”

Instead of working to immediately acknowledge the severity of the AIDS pandemic and rape in South Africa for instance, you spent more time arguing against the perceived sexual tendencies of black people. AIDS is a world wide phenomenon! In Sudan, instead of rightly criticising the Khartoum regime for the state assisted genocide in their country, you chose to attack Winston Churchill for his adventures there ages ago! Then of course, there is “no crisis Zimbabwe.” While respected moral leaders like Desmond Tutu were loudly criticising Mugabe for being “the caricature of the African dictator” you were busy labeling him a coconut. You, as an African leader, have clearly not been “up to the task” in the Zimbabwean crisis!

Is it possible, then, Mr Mebki that you have taken your obsession for the African renaissance to such ridiculous levels that you are not willing to criticse Africans for the things you so desperately no longer want them to be guilty of in the eyes of the world? Are you going to sacrifice the children of Africa on the altar of convenience that wishes to restore the status of the African in history’s opinion? Did Idi Amin not exists much in the same way that Hitler did? Are Israeli atrocities in Palestine not comparable to Sudanese atrocities in Darfur?

Mr African, where is your sense of “I am because we are?” Where is your Ubuntu? History will not remember you for NEPAD. It will record you as the bright eyed renaissance man who was so obsessed with liberating the world of its image of Africa and Africans that he forgot the moral standards required for Africa to shed that very image. Your legacy will be that of intellectual, political and moral complicity in the deaths of AID patients, scars of crime victims and terrified citizens terrorised by their own governments in their own countries while you blamed the west and played with conspiracy theories. I, too, am proud to be an African, but not your kind of African.

Fettered Consciences

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Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 by Marko Phiri

Burnt buttocks, fettered feet, singed hair, charred homes. Cruel men play dentist. And without anesthetics, they forcibly extract healthy teeth from screaming patients. Patients who put their “X” on the “wrong” space. “If they do not understand, we will beat them until they understand,” a dead former minister said with glee at the height of farm murders circa year 2000 referring to white farmers. Today, the wrath is directed at fellow former comrades. We now “understand” what that dead man meant. Who said dead men tell no tales? Are dead men nothing but pictures? Turning in his grave? No, perhaps laughing all the way to that fiery place for souls unfavoured by St. Peter. Another said “we died (sic) for this country”. And that gives them that unique privilege to take lives, kick butt, pull the ears of infants, apply pliers to the genitals of sworn foes. A wise guy said: Not until all the so-called heroes of the struggle are called to the other life will we know peace. All heroes become a bore at last, another said. Burnt buttocks, fettered feet, singed hair, charred homes.

How many more?

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Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 by Amanda Atwood

So the worst fears have been confirmed. CHRA and MDC activist and community organiser Tonderai Ndira, who was abducted from his home last week, has been found dead. Reportedly they had cut off his lips and cut out his tongue.

As Comrade Fatso put it:

Dead. A cold body in a mortuary. That’s how they found Tonde today. Abducted last week, he was tortured and beaten to death. An inspiring, young township freedom fighter whose words were in my ears last week, his breathing body in my eyes. Today the breath has been beaten out of him because he dared to believe that his people could be free. And dreams here are criminal things these days.

Tonderai Ndira was an example of everything that this military junta is trying to weed out and destroy. An energetic township organizer for the MDC, Tonde was inspiring to watch as he would lead us through his tree-lined Mabvuku suburb showing us his community’s problems and how they were determined to solve them. He was a true community activist, greeted by all who walked by and more popular than the local MP.

Once me and other comrades joined him for one of the most creative actions I’ve been in here. Mabvuku has had endless water shortages due to a corrupt City Council so letters supposedly from the Council were sent out to residents calling on them to come to the local Mabvuku council offices to discuss their plight. Soon there was a gathering at the offices of hundreds of Mabvuku residents, from water-bucket-on-head grandmothers to dread-locked scud-in-hand youths. The council representatives were overwhelmed and denied ever sending the letters. Angry residents told the officials and police where they wanted to stick their empty water buckets. Tonde, as usual, was in the forefront. The young and the old were united in their disdain for the answer-less officials. The riot police were called in. Santana trucks began hungrily chasing us and other township youths as we all evaporated into the sprawled out veins of dusty Mabvuku. But the point was made. No justice for us. No respect for you. And that is the message that Tonde’s activism has left written in the soil of his much-loved Mabvuku.

A few weeks ago Tendai Biti told the BBC: “If Mugabe thinks he’s going to get a default presidency, that will be over our dead bodies.”

Well, Biti, Mugabe has been the default president for the past two months. And it is over our dead bodies. 43 and counting. After the March election, the MDC said it was reluctant to organise popular actions in protest because they didn’t want to see people killed by the regime.

But the regime is killing people. And the run off isn’t for another five weeks. How many more of our friends, comrades, brothers, sisters, parents and children will we lose between now and then. And what is the MDC’s plan to ensure that this time, in this election, they take power? Because without concrete steps that see them convert an election victory to a term in office, what have Tonde, Tapiwa, Better and all the others died for?

Confronting death and resocialising life

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Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 by Susan Pietrzyk

When it comes to financial resources for HIV and AIDS the challenges are many. This is true all over the world and perhaps more profoundly in Zimbabwe. For example, the World Bank recently released a report entitled The World Bank’s Commitment to HIV and AIDS in Africa: Our Agenda for Action, 2007-2011

If you look in Appendix 8 entitled HIV Prevalence and Global Financing (for 44 African countries), you see that Zimbabwe has the fourth highest adult HIV prevalence rate (20.1%). However, when you look at total funds received from the Global Fund, PEPFAR, and the World Bank, Zimbabwe ranks 26th. Dating back to 2001, Zimbabwe has received US$50 Million from the Global Fund and no funding from either PEPFAR or the World Bank. Ethiopia has received the most funding from these three donors (US$1.1 billion), followed by Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Namibia is 10th with US$429 million.

One can surmise that there is politics behind Zimbabwe’s significantly lower funding; particularly when it comes to PEPFAR. Launched by George Bush in 2003, PEPFAR funds only 12 of the 44 countries listed in Appendix 8. In order of most money received these 12 countries are: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Namibia, Botswana, Cote D’Ivoire (the range is US$857 million to US$200 million). Despite these funding limitations, adult HIV prevalence rates in Zimbabwe have declined in the last few years.

As often is the case, it’s difficult to understand why prevalence declines. Behaviour change is usually the answer, but which behaviours? How do you document and measure behaviour change? More condoms? Less sex? Increased monogamy? Are self-reported changes accurate? Or do they capture intentions perhaps not actually fulfilled? All solid questions for investigation, yet, in my view, one of the most important questions involves reactions to death; that watching loved ones die potentially prompts behaviour change. Deaths also go beyond pinpointing reasons for behaviour change. I wonder how many dollars go to helping Zimbabweans cope with deaths? And I mean cope emotionally. Even if a figure were available, larger questions resonate: It is socially and culturally acceptable to speak about death? To discuss loss and pain? To express and share the complex process of grieving? The saying goes that everyone grieves in different ways; I get a sense more often than not, Zimbabweans grieve in silence. Only time will reveal the longer-term impacts of HIV and AIDS-related deaths (as well those related to political violence). Again, I mean emotional impacts.

When there are hesitancies to speak openly about death, I wonder too if there are hesitancies to speak openly about life. Natasha’s recent blog Desocialising the self touches on a discussion forum organised by the Musasa Project where people spoke about life’s challenges, largely in relation to lobola, patriarchy, and marriage/relationships in general. I attended the forum as well and a particular comment has been on my mind, one which seems to highlight hesitancies among Zimbabweans to delve into potentially emotionally-charged topics of why, specifically: Why something in life is the way it is?

A woman asked one of the men in attendance: If you had a car that didn’t work, what would you do? Without batting an eye, the man answered: Buy a new one. The woman followed up with: Really, you wouldn’t investigate why the car didn’t work? And then continued with an analogy. Seems then perhaps if your wife didn’t want to have sex you might be inclined to get a new one (wife) and not think to ask your wife why she didn’t want to have sex. The man didn’t disagree. Perhaps he felt on the spot, but still, true to the poignancy of the analogy, the man said nothing. After some laughter that the analogy (unintentionally) equated women to non-functioning cars, the discussion continued following a line of thinking about both desocialising you self away from harmful practices and the importance of resocialising your self to better confront the many why questions life entails, including the complex and emotionally-charged ones.

What hope for 2010?

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Wednesday, May 21st, 2008 by Natasha Msonza

When you deal with a neighbor, you don’t just deal with them like they don’t exist. Those were ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe’s words in an interview with 3rd Degree yesterday concerning the current xenophobic attacks in SA. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out whom he was talking about. I was reminded of what President Mwanawasa once said that a good neighbor should not just watch when a fellow neighbor’s house is on fire. Seems we’ve been getting a lot of this diplomatic politics with no action. Even Moeletsi Mbeki, the brother of our favorite mediator highlighted that the SA government hasn’t done much about the xenophobic situation, or about the issue of putting in place proper mechanisms to accommodate immigrants. The political analyst explained that this kind of thing is bound to happen when pressure piles on the poor. The situation apparently degenerated into serious competition for limited resources and opportunities, which later saw resentment grow towards ‘foreigners’ who were supposedly stealing jobs, women and accommodation of the locals. Mbeki further explained that the South African government has for so long ignored the growing shantytowns that make up most of Alexandra that in effect government helped to extend them.

The man has a point there. I shudder to imagine the kind of costs this whole excitement around the 2010 World Cup will amount to. Imagine a whole new stadium and refurbished hotels among other opulent perks to impress visitors alongside unimaginable poverty that makes up the life of a majority of South Africans.

However, I am beginning to slowly but surely understand President Mbeki. It took him a good four days after the xenophobic attacks to even say something, and all he could say was that the police needed to act more swiftly and that a panel had been formed to look into the attacks. No crisis there either hey?

Even if it’s trust that foreigners are “taking over” jobs, accommodation and even the women too, is that reason enough to actually kill them? We’ve seen harrowing footage of people being stoned or necklaced apartheid style. Not even defenseless women and children appealed to the humanity inside the perpetrators. Never mind the fact that South Africa requires Zimbabwean skills and no amount of hate-crime can change this. In fact, South Africa still lacks a lot of crucial skills. People forget that immigrants are often willing to do sometimes menial and not-so-glorious jobs shunned by locals. Should they not be recognized for that effort? Zimbabwe was at some point in history a place to be for Mozambican and Malawian immigrants who were willing to do the tasks disparaged by locals, but the tide turned and now our professionals are ones nursing the old and scrubbing toilets elsewhere. The tide can also just as easily turn for South Africans.

It is clear South Africa is not a safe destination or host for the 2010 World Cup and FIFA or whoever it is in charge ought to withdraw that privilege – even only as a boycott to show that they do not condone human rights abuses. FIFA president Joseph. S. Blatter risks eating his words that “It is a question of confidence and trust in a country like South Africa, a well organized country, able to organize this competition.” There is still two more years to go and that’s enough time to decide a new venue for this international event.

If Africans are foreigners in South Africa, I shudder to think about the whole lot that will, come 2010, flock from all corners to a country some of whose people are so unfeeling as to burn a living, breathing human being alive like a worthless effigy. How about the prospect of sheer embarrassment that when ‘foreigners’ came to Africa, they lived in perpetual and real fear of barbaric savages who have no respect for life.

Economics or schadenfreude?

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Wednesday, May 21st, 2008 by Natasha Msonza

It’s almost a month since a close friend lost his two beautiful and vicious dogs. They just woke up one morning throwing up all over the place and foaming at the mouth. They had obviously been poisoned. I had never once seen a man so distraught, weeping over loss of life of animals. Of course, life is life and to have it so unfeelingly snuffed out can be a most traumatic ordeal. Somewhere in the middle of much weeping and cursing emerged the opinion that whoever did this must have had a strong motive. Maybe they wanted to come back and steal something. I wondered to myself if dog killers and people who are cruel to animals always have justifiable motive.

The deputy RBZ governor Edward Mashiringwana was reported by the Independent to have seized Friedawill farm near Chinhoyi while the owner was absent. He reportedly refused to allow the SPCA to feed the animals. This led the pigs, demented by thirst and hunger, to consume their young. Did Mashiringwana have any particular motive in refusing to let these animals be helped, or just a senseless heartless thrill that doesn’t necessarily benefit anything?

I can draw parallels to the business of the Chinese An Yue Jiang whose whereabouts some of us are no longer sure of, but are pretty certain is eager to offload its cargo no matter what. That is if it hasn’t already if loudmouth Matonga’s claims are anything to go by. Everyone knows the situation going down here, but it seems to have fallen on deaf Chines ears that those weapons of mass destruction are intended to annihilate innocent civilians whose crime was simply expressing new political interests through the ballot. One wonders what’s the motive in this case or they simply don’t care? Or is it a case of letting the poor country self- destruct, then come in for easy plunder. But of what? Nothing hardly lives here and they have already literally flooded our market with defective Chinese zhing zhong rejects.

China is itself currently in mourning over the thousands of its people who lost their lives to its worst earthquake in three decades. It is sad how the nation mourns, how survivors are living on handouts at the roadside. I extend deep condolences to the people of China. Life is too precious to be so needlessly and violently lost. I hope they feel the same way too for others outside themselves.

Because, while I’m not accusing them of schadenfreude, it is nevertheless a sad irony that the people of China don’t seem to hold the Zimbabwean lives, which stand to be lost needlessly to the selfish interest of a cruel few, as important as their own.

Could the Chinese not lobby their government to stop the supply of arms to Zimbabwe? Or is business to go on as business, ahead of all else? Because the moment those weapons aboard the An Yue Jiang touch down, Zimbabwe, landlocked as it is will have an earthquake of its own, the kind entailing massive blood bath and purely man made.

My most cynical colleagues believe that justice has a strange and most unusual way of prevailing sometimes. According to them the Chinese have paid with the lives of their own for the innocent lives they would indirectly help annihilate through support of an oppressive government that will stop at nothing to get revenge on an electorate that simply fell out of love with it. I think there is nothing just about any undeserved death. If only we all valued life and the right to self-determination.

Currently the Chinese are also embroiled in a long-standing dispute with the Tibetans whom they just won’t allow to be an independent state. Their respect for the lives of others really becomes questionable to some of us. I mean, aside from their fear of losing face, what is stopping China from granting Tibet the genuine autonomy it desires. Alternately, in the case of Zimbabwe, are money and diplomatic politics more important than life?

*Schadenfreude, German word to describe taking pleasure in others’ misfortune