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Archive for May, 2009

Getting to town on a rainy day

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Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Mgcini Nyoni

Getting into town in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, is particularly problematic on a normal day. On a rainy day it is a nightmare. The rain presents all sorts of problems to those intending to get to ‘work’. There are all sorts of options available to those intending to travel to ‘work’. There are private cars that pick up people on the road because that is the only way the owners can buy fuel for their cars, otherwise they would have to park their cars. Commuters prefer these because they are more comfortable as opposed to commuter omnibus that carry up to 20 passengers instead of the recommended 15.  There is also the option of traveling at the back of pick up trucks that charge less than the commuter omnibuses.

Work is anything that brings in a bit of income, not necessarily formal employment. I am still trying to figure out how most of the people I know make a living. I am not counting those that sell sweets, sugar and various forms of farm produce on the street. There seems to be a form of employment called ‘dealing’ that I don’t seem to know much about. Whenever I ask some of my friends why they travel to town on a daily basis when they do not seem to have any visible form of employment, they are rather cagey. My dear friends do not look me in the eye and are fidgety when I challenge their source of income. It’s like asking a Mafia boss what he is carrying in his bag.

Those intending to get to ‘work’, usually stand by the traffic lights central to Luveve, Lobengula and Emakhandeni high density suburbs. Here they get rides from ancient pick up trucks that charge them R3. Once in a while a loud-mouthed individual joins the group and influences them into refusing to pay R3 and the trip to town will cost R2. Conventional commuter omnibuses cost R5, so that is a saving of R2 per trip. It might not seem much, but a return trip for R6 means a saving of R4. Enough for a trip into town on the back of a pick up truck, with R1 left over to buy arctic ice mints that are sold for R1 for 8 by street vendors.

Not all those intending to get to town can afford even the R3. Some walk into town. For those who walk and for those who travel on the back of pick up trucks a  rainy day presents all sorts of problems. For those traveling on the back of pick up trucks, the rain lashes and whips your face so much that by the time you get into town  you are freezing and as disoriented as a headless  chicken. Traveling on the back of an open truck on a rainy day, one is tempted to think that the foot brigade – those who walk into town are better off. But they are not. Following the ‘tarred’ road is a rather along way to walk, so people take short cuts using mainly footpaths. On a rainy day these are very muddy and any false stepping and one finds oneself knee deep in mud. Besides being rather too long a route, on the ‘tarred’ road route one an easily be run over by the speeding commuter omnibuses trying to avoid rather deep and wide potholes. The potholes are large enough for a child to do a backstroke in. Either that or a speeding car will hit a pothole and the pedestrians on the side of the road will find themselves drenched in muddy water, and getting into town looking like that is not good for ‘business’.

After somehow making it into town, the workers are presented with a different kind of problem. They cannot stand on street corners and do their ‘business’ when it is pouring rain. So whilst the rain is hailed as a good thing by mainly the farming community and by leaders of Bulawayo who see it as a solution to perennial water woes that are faced by the city. The indigenous ‘business’ people curse rainy days as they disrupt their livelihoods.

Tsvangirai downplays farm invasions

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Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Bev Clark

Who said this when asked about farm invasions and violence on farms?

There are incidents in which it is reported that there are invasions on one or two farms but it’s all blown out of proportion. We have investigated examples of those so-called farm invasions. We have asked the Minister of Lands to give us a detailed report of what has been happening over all these so-called farm invasions and the outcry over that.

That’s Morgan Tsvangirai, although you could easily have thought it was a Zanu PF stalwart.

Meanwhile, here’s a report by Jan Raath writing for the Mail & Guardian (SA), 28 May

President Robert Mugabe’s controversial “land reform programme” took a new twist on Wednesday when a court ordered the eviction of a man who is not a farmer. Ian Campbell-Morrison (46) lives in the Vumba Mountains in eastern Zimbabwe, next to a hotel where he is the green keeper. He and his wife live in a cottage on a plot not much bigger than a suburban garden, where she tends flowers. The Campbell-Morrisons used to farm tobacco and coffee, but the government seized their land and the farmhouse and gave it to a government official, leaving the couple their cottage and the garden around it, said Hendrik Olivier, director of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, made up mostly of Zimbabwe’s remaining 350 white farmers. A magistrate in the nearby city of Mutare nevertheless sentenced Campbell-Morrison to a fine of $800 for “illegally occupying state land” and ordered the couple to be off the property by Saturday. The Campbell-Morrisons are one of 140 white farming families facing eviction from their land in the latest tactic in Mugabe’s violent, lawless campaign to force white landowners – numbering about 5 000 when it started in 2000 – off their farms. The action is in the name of a redistribution of land to black Zimbabweans, but which has instead made a million former farm workers homeless and set off the collapse the once-prosperous country’s economy. Mugabe has declared all white-owned land to be state property and banned farmers from taking the government to court.

The evictions and violence have continued despite the establishment in February of a power-sharing government between Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, with an agreement to restore the rule of law and to “ensure security of tenure to all land holders”. Tsvangirai, now prime minister, began by promising to end the lawlessness, promising that “no crime [by invaders] will go unpunished,” but the police – under the control of staunchly pro-Mugabe security chiefs – continued to refuse to act against the mostly well-heeled Mugabe loyalists grabbing productive farms and selling their crops. Western governments have refused to provide finance for the recovery of the country’s economy from world-record inflation and decimation of production under Mugabe, until there are “clear signs of reform” in the re-establishment of the rule of law. The restoration of peace and security on the farms is cited as a key condition. But there was shock this week when Tsvangirai, referred in an interview to “isolated incidents of so-called farm invasions” that had “been blown out of proportion”. Said a Western diplomat: “He’s talking like Mugabe now.”

Throughout Tuesday night on Mount Carmel farm in the Chegutu district, farmer Ben Freeth and his family were terrorised by a mob of invaders who rolled blazing tyres at their thatch-roofed homestead. At the weekend, an 80-year-old woman was assaulted by police, who were removing her son from his farm. On Friday, another farmer was beaten by a Mugabe supporter. “There has been absolutely no resolution or even recognition that there is even a problem,” said CFU president Trevor Gifford, who is trying to stop a government official cutting down what is left of his timber plantation, and is selling it to the government of neighbouring Zambia for telephone poles. Gifford is due to appear in court on Friday for “illegally occupying state land”. “This is happening in a country that has become the world’s most dependent on donors for food,” he said. “Until this government respects the rights of its own citizens and investment agreements, no one will look at this country.”

A Reluctant Soldier

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Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 by John Eppel

I was 27 when I was called up to protect God and Country from the twin evils of Communism and African Nationalism.  God had recently become a Born Again Christian, and Country was a chartered company called Rhodesia.

My first experience of war was the basic training camp at Llewellyn Barracks outside Bulawayo: it was 8 weeks of hell.  The drill sergeant kept threatening to ram his wand of office up our “dung funnels”.  I was luckier than many because, with my short back-and-sides, my pencil-thin moustache, and my tilted beret, I bore a resemblance to Monty of Alamein, under whose overall command our drill sergeant had seen active service, in a war he sentimentally described as The Last Effort.  Whenever he looked at me standing stiffly to attention on the parade ground, his eyes misted over.

There were three categories of so-called Territorials: A, B, and S.  The As were one hundred percent fit for combat, the Bs had minor disabilities like colour-blindness, while the Ss were hopeless cases and were there for one reason only: they were white, and all white males from the ages of 18 to 60 had to be called up.  I was categorized B.  I had two minor disabilities: I was short-sighted and I was a school teacher.  According to our trainers, from the Camp Commander down to the lance corporals, teachers had no skills and were fit for nothing but cannon fodder.  Consequently we became riflemen; and it was with my rifle, my “wife”, that the real troubles began.

Part of our training was a competition on the shooting range, which involved the entire barracks.  I came second last with a score of 13 out of 300.  The recruit, who came last, an S-category, threw an epileptic fit on automatic fire.  If the moon had been a target he would have achieved quite a good score.  Coming second last was bad enough but some of my rounds went into the target of the guy next to me, and he came first with an incredible score of 340 out of 300.  The soldiers running the competition were so disgusted with me and the epileptic that they made us run, on the spot, with rifles held aloft, until we collapsed.

Even the epileptic beat me in the competition to dismantle and reassemble our weapons in as fast a time as possible.  The winning time was measured in seconds; I was at it for nearly an hour, and the final result was something more akin to an agricultural implement than a weapon of war – and there were bits left over, one of which was stuffed into my ear by a disgusted instructor.

My punishment was even worse the day I asked one of our trainers, who used variations on the word “fuck” to punctuate his lectures, which knots we should use when tying our white surrender flags to the barrels of our FNs (automatic rifles manufactured in Belgium).  My heart wasn’t in this war.  I was too old to be taken in by the crude propaganda of the Rhodesian government. I knew that I was on the side of the baddies.

After basic training I was called up every school holidays and deployed to various hot spots.  I stuck it out for two years then left for England with a hundred Rhodesian dollars (worth fifty pounds sterling) in my pocket and a knitted tea cosy on my head.  There I applied unsuccessfully for political asylum.  After all, I hadn’t made the slightest attempt to assassinate Ian Smith or to down a Viscount, or to overturn the concrete picnic tables at designated lay bys.

Most of my time on call ups was spent digging bunkers or getting drunk on warm beer; but I was involved in one contact, near a post on the Mozambique border called Vila Salazar.  I have described this contact in poetry (confessional) and in prose (mocking) and I reproduce the poem below.  The contradiction of being a European-African has resulted in my speaking with voices that seem, and might well be, contradictory.  I’m no Billy Budd, in whose nature there was neither the will nor the “sinister dexterity” of satire.

When our section went out on patrol or to set up an ambush, we left our grenades behind so that we could fill our kidney pouches with quarter jacks of cheap brandy or cane spirit.  Then we would find a “safe” spot, usually half way up a koppie, disconnect our radio (it seldom worked, anyway), and sip our way into oblivion.  We were sitting ducks.

Once our platoon commander decided to accompany us and that was the closest I came, in the War of Liberation, to being shot.  Some “terrs” had been spotted in the area and it was our job to track them down.  The platoon commander, in great excitement, told us to look for a certain pattern of shoe sole favoured by the enemy.  For hours in the sweltering heat we searched the rock-hard ground for these prints.  I was fed up.  I saw a cow-hoof print in a gulley and called out: “Sarge, I’ve got their trail!”  Would you believe it, he ordered the rest of the section to leopard-crawl towards me.  “Look!” I whispered, pointing at the cow-hoof print.  The platoon commander stared at it for a second or two, and then he stood up, cocked his rifle, let off the safety catch, and took aim at me.  The next few seconds passed for an eternity.   I won’t bore you with the details of my punishment.  Alexander Pope once said: “Those who are ashamed of nothing else are so of being ridiculous.”

Read the poem . . . Spoils of war

Bills, bill, bills!

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Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 by Marko Phiri

I have heard of a number of households in high density suburbs that have received fixed telephone bills of up to USD1,500 and had their phones disconnected. A guy told me the other day he got a bill for USD125 and also had his phone disconnected.

We get pronouncements from ministers in charge of state utilities assuring consumers that they will never be cut off from these essential services and yet these reports continue with consumers being clueless about recourse.

Electricity, water, telecommunications etc appear to be riddled with odious political machinations one has to wonder if these directives issued by the ministers mean anything to the utility administrators.

These directives appear to be simply ignored and if consumers do not have the protection of the ministers, where then do they turn for relief when their phones are cut off because of these ridiculous charges?

Everyone knows there is no Zimbabwean worker who earns a USD1,000 and we know civil servants get a measly USD100, and these are the folks who back then enjoyed the so-called mod-cons (fixed phones included) so how the heck are they expected to pay a USD1,500 phone bills.

It will take them a cool 15 months to settle that bill and this means in the meantime they won’t be eating anyting or paying any other bills! All this for a telephone? Only in Zimbabwe!!

These families will never again have a telephone in their homes, and if it is folks who had stuff like dial-up internet connection, they are then forced to patronise internet cafes where they will pay for a service they rightly should be accessing in the comfort of their homes.

Not only that, the inconvenience is inconceivable in this age where virtually every family has a member living and working outside the country who cannot get through the frustrating mobile phones.

Fixed phones then have been a godsend for these families as calls from abroad get through without any headaches, but who is listening. This is not an appeal for the service provider to ignore defaulting rate payers but rather simply to review these outrageous bills.

As long these rates are not revised, it’s a sure return to the Stone Age.

Don’t mistake benevolence for progress

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Friday, May 22nd, 2009 by Amanda Atwood

This week started out with a few small signs of hope. Two public demonstrations were staged, with no arrests. According to a WOZA statement, on  Monday, “over 1,000 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise marched through the streets of Bulawayo, to articulate their demands to the power sharing government.” And according to SW Radio Africa, on Tuesday, “Law Society of Zimbabwe held a peaceful demonstration in the streets of Harare to protest continuing harassment of members of the legal fraternity.” – This despite the fact that the police had previously banned the march. In both cases, the police watched the demonstrations, but no arrests were made.

Surprised by this, we sent out the following text message on Wednesday:

Kubatana! Inclusive govt may be opening up democratic space. 2 successful demonstrations this week with no arrests. WOZA in BYO Monday and lawyers in HRE Tues.

One enthusiastic subscriber replied: “Ah, ko lets march to state house w a petition 4 bob 2 step down muone mashura mtHarare! kana kuenda kuRBZ 4 gono 2 go! Tinofa (or go to the Reserve Bank and tell Gono to go. We’re dying.)”

But Fambai was less convinced: “Kubatana puhleeze, what democratic space? Honestly we cant b celebrating the false benevolence of bloodthirsty riot police not using their baton sticks!”

Good point Fambai! Clearly two zero-arrest-demonstrations do not a happy democracy make. So. Is there any genuine change in the works, or is this all the same crocodile, just conveniently disguising itself for a bit?

Tsvangirai is being used to raise money for Mugabe

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Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 by Bev Clark

Tendai Dumbutshena recently wrote an impassioned article for The Financial Gazette in which he suggests that “Tsvangirai, excited beyond measure by his status as Prime Minister, has exceeded his brief by sanitising the person of President Mugabe.”

Tendai also believes that “there is no point trying to make out a case for the MDC-T to pull out. It will simply not happen. The comforts and status of office are too attractive to resist. No price is too high to keep them.”

The article ends pessismitically with these words . . .

While MDC-T leaders are flying all over the place begging for money and lobbying for the removal of sanctions, President Mugabe is planning for the day the country goes to the polls. When that day comes the MDC-T will find that nothing has changed. The militia will still be in place. The police CIO and defence forces will still be wings of ZANU-PF. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission or whatever body replaces it will be under ZANU-PF’s commissariat. The ZBC will still enjoy a monopoly and be staffed by ZANU-PF apparatchiks. Certain magistrates and judges will be on standby to deal with cases assigned to them by the Minister of Justice. Filthy prisons and CIO jails will still be there to welcome opponents of ZANU-PF deemed dangerous. If all this fails ZANU-PF will not accept the results and the MDC-T will go crying to SADC for intervention. Enter another inclusive government under President Mugabe as head.

As Tendai points out it is all very predictable and depressing, but what are the other options?