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Archive for August, 2008

Labour law & black eyes

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Friday, August 29th, 2008 by Susan Pietrzyk

A recent blog of mine ­Rights claims in court­ generated an excellent comment and I wanted to highlight this comment and all its intellect.  I appreciate that I was too quick and too vague in saying that being a women is irrelevant in the case of the South African sex-worker who filed a claim against a brothel owner for unlawful termination.  Being a woman is relevant.  Particularly because, as the commenter notes:  “The judge chose to interpret the law in a way that entrenched discrimination against a particular sex and class­ female and sex worker.”  I was writing from the perspective of a gender-neutral world, which is not reality. Even purchasing beer in Zimbabwe can be gendered.  On many occasions, I’ve had men and women tell me it’s inappropriate for a woman to make such a purchase.  I wouldn’t continue to use the phrase “that she’s a woman is irrelevant” in reference to the South African sex worker (or any female sex worker).  But I stand by my argument that as a labour issue, the rights claim does not necessarily need to be asserted exclusively based on sex.  I would hope that this South African sex-workers case becomes an inspiring element in advocacy around decriminalizing sex work.  Sex work exists because there’s a large market for it; there has been since the dawn of time.  Women are the predominant sellers, but men sell sex too. In either case, as long as people are willing to buy, I believe that a sex worker is entitled to the same rights and protections afforded to any other person engaged in a form of employment.

Additionally, the conclusion of the comment importantly points to the difficulties around balancing, “problematic representation of women as poor powerless victims” with “nothing is as powerful a tool for inspiring women who are going through similar challenges as the story of one of their own, who has fought against the odds and won.”   A recent article in the Mail & Guardian reminded me of how difficult this balance is.  The author describes how her dog head-butted her at the veterinarians office resulting in her getting a black eye.  Once she went on with her life, it became apparent that nearly everyone she encountered had a difficult time looking her in the (black) eye.  There appeared to be uneasiness and an assumption that the black eye was the result of abuse by a man.  She was rendered a victim without the facts being known.  I agree with the author and also feel for how women who have been abused, “not only have to endure the physical and emotional pain of that violence, but must then suffer another round of beating and shrinkage when they venture into society.”  And yes, very much so, the many courageous women who are able to heal from experiences of violence are powerful examples of fighting the odds and winning.

From a bullet to a pen

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Thursday, August 28th, 2008 by Dennis Nyandoro

During the run-off election campaigning period in Zimbabwe, a Zanu PF politician addressing a rally in the country told the gathering of elderly people and school children that a pen cannot simply remove the government or Uncle Bob from State House. The threat of violence was heavy in his voice.

Then on July 21, 2008 the Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Principals.

The Parties involved in the signing were Zanu PF, the two MDC formations led by Morgan Tsvangirai and by Arthur Mutambara respectively.

However as I commute to and from work people are wondering what really is going on behind the scenes since there’s no publicity on what it is about these talks about talks except when they are deadlocked and will resume again on such and such a day. Crazy.

What surprises most is that the very pen that was once accused of not being able to make things better in Zimbabwe is now being used by Zanu PF for the signing. More so, the so-called talks are deadlocked because of one ‘Principal’s’ signature not being there.

As Zimbabweans we are so confused by this MoU.  Whether its still the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ or the MoM, the ‘Memorandum of Misunderstanding’.

This moment of controversy

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Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 by James Hall

I am worried. I am worried that, caught up in the throes of the fight for power sharing, we will compromise the principle of justice and reparations. I am worried that we will turn the real deaths, torture and dismemberment of real people into mere statistics to be read out on Heroes Day for years to come. I am worried that the real stories of real 74 year old men in Gokwe whose limbs have been broken, by design, for daring to father children who grew up to be opposition activists, will disappear; that the stories of real grandmothers who have succumbed to injuries from real beating by real hordes of real youths sent by a real political machinery to spread fear and rob people of their dignity will be but a distant memory.

I am worried that we will achieve peace but not justice. I am worried that weary of all this crap, we are now preparing to favour expediency over conviction. I look at the Simon Wiesental Centre that has given some measure of justice to the Jewish people. I look at the truth and reconciliation commission of South Africa that has given some measure of closure to the people of South Africa and then I look at the struggle for “‘power sharing” in Zimbabwe and I worry.

How can you share power with the people who, by design, not in a civil war, but by cold, calculated planning terrorised an entire nation just because they lost an election? What manner of pragmatism is this that achieves results for an elite and leaves gaping wounds seared into the memories of thousands upon thousands of Zimbabwean citizens whose sole crime was to exercise their right to choose? Have the chosen ones taken this very real choice with very real consequences in vain?

Justice where art thou? Conviction, have you fled our hearts as we savour the prospect of wood paneled offices? Shall we pay for this later and start the cycle all over again? Who, in “this moment of controversy” shall remain true to what we stand for?

“Truth above power, nation above government!”

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

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Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 by Natasha Msonza

Our little chalk board outside the office door has a message scribbled on it that says; if you could change one thing, what would it be? We often receive many visitors, some of whom simply want to engage our humble but free services to ask for all kinds of information ranging from where they can find such and such an organization, to how far with the talks? Fortunately our front-desk man always somehow manages to stifle the temptation to say: this ain’t the effing Salvation Army!

Today this pleasant gentleman waltzed in and the first thing he asked me was what I would change if I could. I said well, that question is for anyone who walks in here, including himself. When I threw back the question to him he said simply, Mugabe. That one change, he explained, would result in an unimaginable ripple effect that will see a stream of other important changes take place to make this country a better place.

Frankly, I hadn’t thought of it that way. I mean, I had sort of perceived that question to somehow elicit a response that is more personal, like what one would change about oneself in terms of say, physical appearance or character. But now that I think of it, he has a point.

On my way to work yesterday I had to maneuver and take the longest route round because I had overlooked the fact that Parliament was being reconvened and a lot of the city’s roads would be cordoned off. I couldn’t help feeling that sense of dread that creeps up on me whenever I encounter the self-important goons in the security service with their polished shoes, neat uniforms and empty stomachs. They just cease to think properly whenever Uncle Bob is playing in the area. I mean, what’s the logic behind sealing off all the backstreets behind Parliament building even to pedestrians, and dictating that they may not walk across here but can do so there? What the hell do they honestly think we can possibly do to that old man (if at all you can see him)? There is no history of suicide bombings here and lets face it, some people just aren’t worth dying for.

If I could change these guys, I’d make them a little more sensible and less condescending. It would be nice to wipe those complacent, smug expressions off their faces.

And what about those clowns masquerading as political leaders with our best interests at heart? Apparently that’s why they spent three weeks at the circus in Pretoria, carefully deliberating our future. Yesterday they are at it again in a less elaborate venue called Parliament. Radio VOP has just reported that there was drama as women’s leagues from the main parties clashed outside Parliament. Apparently they engaged in a battle of the vocal chords whereby the MDC women prevailed by chanting “chinja” (change) and “you are now the opposition” at the top of their voices allegedly shocking their contenders into silence.   When will they realize that they shouldn’t fight each other but rather direct their attention to that one man? If I could wave a magic wand, would I not change their thought processes or better yet, make them all disappear and save us all from their nauseating shenanigans?

And how about hypocrites and opportunity-snatchers that shy away from the fields they are experts in, like rocket science, and choose rather to enlighten us all to the hidden schemes and neo-colonial tendencies of the West. Like rapists, I despise hypocrites. They are anything between a cockroach and that stuff that accumulates at the corner of your mouth when you are extremely thirsty.

I’d probably change them too, if I could.

As a matter of fact, I’d like to change a lot of things, wouldn’t you?  But as our friendly visitor suggested, let’s start with that one stubborn man. Change him, and you’ve changed everyone and everything else in Zimbabwe.

Last week I met Joyce . . .

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Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 by Natasha Msonza

I am one of those who aren’t blessed with the greatest of gnashers. Apparently my lower jaw is just too small to accommodate all the teeth I’m supposed to have in this lifetime. So in my adulthood I’ve had to have some ‘minor surgery’ on one of my wisdom teeth. The procedure was poorly done and as a result I got a major infection (pus and all) that traumatised me ever since. At that time I was told I needed more ‘minor surgery’ done on both my lower wisdom teeth that are stuck under my gum and failing to come out causing such harrowing pain. Not removing them would mean a life of grinding jaws from my early 30s onwards. I am only 24 and last Friday I had one of my very healthy wisdom teeth taken out.

I was contemplating the possibility of the procedure going wrong and having another infection. Add to that, the dentist was just too damn expensive, what a rip-off! For consultation alone, I was to fork out Z$1 700 (10 trillion and seven hundred thousand dollars in the old currency), but that is only if I was paying cash. Any other form of payment like cheque or bank transfer meant that I’d have to pay double. Since there was no way I could get 10 trillion out of the bank I had to pay double through bank cheque.

The minor surgery was to cost me Z$38 000 (380 trillion old currency). Alternatively, I could simply pay USD267, the nosy nurse said. My backside. The exchange rate would more than double the required Zim dollar equivalent! My only consolation was that the dentist came highly recommended and is one of the few remaining ENT (ear, nose and throat) experts in the country. I’d be damned if I let another quack touch my teeth.

So you can imagine I wasn’t in the best of moods as I made my way to the dentist until I met Joyce. As I trudged down 4th Street, I noticed the figure of a young woman a few yards ahead. At first she appeared to be losing her balance, falling slowly and ending up slumped next to a dirty trash. She was passed unnoticed by at least three people. When I caught up with her she was sobbing quite loudly and I was tempted to just also pass her because among other things, I was late for my dreaded appointment. However something inside me just wouldn’t let me leave her. I crouched next to her to ask what was wrong and to see if there was any way I could help.

Her sobbing transformed into downright mourning as she started an incoherent barrage of what was going on with her. She was just too damn tired of this life, she had walked all the way from Greendale where she stays with a sister; a single mother and they were struggling to make ends meet. She was exhausted and her legs were swelling and running out of strength. Above all, she hadn’t eaten a thing and she happened to be HIV positive and needed to take some medication. Her name was Joyce and she was 20 years old. While she continued her story, my eyes travelled along her skinny frame. Her short hair was strangely curly, her bony little hands were shaking slightly, and she was either suffering from kwashiorkor or simply pregnant. She also seemed too small for her age.

My first instinct was to think here was another itinerant just trying to swindle me out of my money with some pathetic little story. Instinctively I took out a hundred-dollar note and pressed it into her hands. Whatever her story was, I really needed to get a move on and she did look like she could do with a banana or two. Seeing there was nothing more I could do for her, I stood to leave and then she weakly tugged at my trouser leg. I had to bend really low to hear her. She thanked me and was glad that now she could afford more maize for her small business. She then asked me, “Why does God punish me by keeping me alive?” She had been on her way to Mbare, on foot, where she intended to buy some maize as evidenced by the empty rucksack she carried. I doubted she could carry 2kgs of maize. She could hardly carry her own weight.

We were beginning to gather a small audience. A curious sight we must have looked. Surprisingly, the audience remained just that, curious but not enough to actually want to help. After a while, two ladies stopped and I explained to them what had happened. One whipped out her posh cell phone and asked Joyce for a number of a relative or friend she could phone so that they could come and collect her.

Meanwhile, two police officers arrived at the scene and set up some sort of roadblock just a few meters away. I walked up to the female officer and explained what had happened. She listened intently and when I finished, she shrugged, smiled and told me I could never finish all the troubles of this world and I ought to watch out for lazy swindlers out to make a quick buck. With a slight wave of her hand she dismissed me saying that they would look into it. I felt a little better leaving her now that the police would take care of her. As I walked down the road, I kept turning back occasionally and not once did the officers make any move towards Joyce. Her lone figure next to the trash can get smaller and smaller until I could not see her anymore.

As the dentist pierced the insides of my gum with an anaesthetic laden needle I stared into the blinding light realising that the Z$100 note wouldn’t make any marked difference in her life. Again, only God knew how many other pedestrians just passed by and left her slumped there because they simply had nothing to offer her except pity. Others would simply be indifferent because after all, we all have problems.

Joyce, like everyone else has a right to a standard of living adequate for her health and well being, including food, clothing, medical care and social service. But if a person like herself develops bad molars, would she be able to fork out 380 trillion just to have one of them extracted? When she can hardly feed herself who has the duty to ensure that her right to access proper nutrition and medical healthcare is met? People like Joyce simply wither away and die silently. She is one of the Tarisais Mr. Magaisa talks about. Even by her dire standards, things have gotten worse recently.

As the dentist held my healthy molar up in the air it seemed to rebuke me in all its glory. There are people with far worse problems in this country and if you can have your molars fixed for 380 trillion, you are one of the privileged few.

I wondered what became of Joyce. I wondered how often we stop to think how lucky we are compared to others worse off than ourselves, and actually thank God for it rather than complain.

Joyce has been one of those encounters in life that keeps knocking at the back of my conscience. The kind that makes you keep asking yourself, could I have done more? What if it was me and all those people were ignoring me at the time I needed help the most? Life is not all that exciting in Zimbabwe nowadays for we have been reduced to considering ourselves extremely lucky each time we manage to salvage something to fill our stomachs or bump into headache tablets at the pharmacy and those are supposed to be such basic things.

But Joyce displayed a certain characteristic inherent in many a Zimbabwean – determination. Despite her dire circumstances, all she wanted to do was walk all the way to Mbare and buy maize for her small business, and lead a normal life.

Talks on the table

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Monday, August 25th, 2008 by Amanda Atwood

If all goes according to plan, the Members of Parliament who were elected in March will be sworn in today, and Parliament will open tomorrow. At five months after the fact, it’s tempting to think “finally,” with a sigh of relief that Zimbabwe’s legislature is kicking into gear at last.

But there’s the small problem of the 21 July Memorandum of Understanding, and this clause in particular:

The Parties shall not, during the subsistence of the Dialogue, take any decisions or measures that have a bearing on the agenda of the Dialogue, save by consensus. Such decisions or measures include, but are not limited to the convening of Parliament or the formation of a new government.

When we asked subscribers what they thought of Parliament opening this week, despite this provision in the MoU, many urged the MDC to boycott Parliament, abandon the talks, and go the route of civil disobedience. Others, however, were sceptical of this as a viable approach, and urged the MDC to go along with the opening of Parliament and let pressure mount on Mugabe from outside the country.

I’ve pasted below what Tsvangirai is being asked to concede to. As Prime Minister, Tsvangirai would be responsible for implementing the policies of a Cabinet he had not himself solely appointed. He and Mugabe would have to agree on the composition of Cabinet – and if they disagreed? It’s unclear how that deadlock would be broken. Tsvangirai would be able to recommend disciplinary measures – but not necessarily enact them. He could advise the President on appointments, but it would be Mugabe who made the final decision.

Would you sign?

Role of the Prime Minister

  1. Cabinet is the organ of state that carries the principal responsibility of formulating and implementing the government policies agreed to in the Global Agreement. The Executive Authority of the Inclusive Government resides in the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
  2. The Prime Minister is a member of Cabinet and its Deputy Chairperson. In that regard he carries the responsibility to oversee the formulation of policies by the Cabinet.
  3. The Prime Minister must ensure that all the policies so formulated are implemented in accordance with the programme developed by the Ministries and agreed to in Cabinet.
  4. In overseeing the implementation of the agreed policies, the Prime Minister must ensure that the state has sufficient resources and appropriate operational capacity to carry out its functions effectively. Accordingly, the Prime Minister will necessarily have to ensure that all state organs are geared towards the implementation of the policies of the inclusive government.
  5. The President and the Prime Minister will agree on the allocation of Ministries between them for the purpose of day-to-day supervision.
  6. The Prime Minister must ensure that the legislation necessary to enable government to carry out its functions is in place. In this regard, he carries the responsibility of conducting the business of Government in Parliament.
  7. The Prime Minister also advises the President on key appointments the President is required to make under and in terms of the Constitution or any Act of Parliament.
  8. The Prime Minister can make recommendations on such disciplinary measures as may be necessary
  9. The Prime Minister shall serve as a member of the National Security Council and this will ensure his participation in deliberations on matters of national security and operations pertaining thereto.
  10. As the work of the Inclusive Government evolves, the President or Cabinet may assign such additional functions as are necessary further to enhance the work of the inclusive government.
  11. The Prime Minister shall report regularly to the President.