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Archive for June, 2009

Diamonds are a chef’s best friend

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Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 by Amanda Atwood

According to the latest HRW report, the Government of Zimbabwe “could generate significant amounts of revenue from the diamonds, perhaps as much as US$200 million per month, if Marange and other mining centres were managed in a transparent and accountable manner.”

The Zimbabwean economy is in desperate shape, the government is bankrupt, and MDC leaders including Morgan Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti have been fund raising in Africa, Europe and the US to try and get some cash to pay civil servants, meet the country’s monthly running costs, and rebuild the nation’s economy.

But why do our politicians have their begging bowls out, when we have national resources like Marange at our disposal? US President Barack Obama recently pledged US $73 million to Zimbabwe. If we were properly managing our diamond resources, we could earn that much in under 11 days. TheWorld Bank has pledged US $22 million – less than four days of potential diamond revenue.

According to the government’s Short Term Economic Recovery Programme, and the 2009 Revised Budget,  Zimbabwe needs at least US $1bn per year just to keep things going – that’s US $83.3 million per month. If the HRW estimate is right, getting some diamond revenue into the national purse would meet these expenses – and give Zimbabwe room to grow, save, invest and develop – not just stagger along hand-to-mouth.

Sure, Zimbabwe needs a lot of money to get back on its feet – Tsvangirai estimates US $8.5 billion. But shouldn’t our first step be to get our own house in order?

Powerless pawns

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Monday, June 29th, 2009 by Amanda Atwood

I’ve just received SW Radio Africa’s latest text message with news headlines and updates:

Bob off to Libya, changes cabinet meet to Mon to stop MT chairing. MDC boycott. MDC Marange MP jailed before giving massacre details to conflict diamond group.

As usual, there’s a lot more than 160 characters worth of information packed into this SMS. But my overriding question from it is why does the MDC stay in this “power sharing” arrangement in which they are so clearly not just a junior partner, but a powerless pawn?

“I’ve never been in the closet”

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Monday, June 29th, 2009 by Fungai Machirori

“I’ve never come out of the closet because I’ve never been in it,” says Dirk Slater of his openness as a homosexual man. Growing up in California, in the United States of America, Slater says that he was always comfortable and conscious of his gayness and was never pressured to make an effort to conceal it. He was in his teens when the first cases of Karposi’s sarcoma – the first known symptom of what was later to be termed AIDS – were observed among American homosexual men in, 1981. At this time, homosexuality was heavily stigmatised and seen as the cause of this outbreak. “It was a scary time,” confesses Slater, now 44. “There was this gay cancer going around and a lot of people died from it, including my own friends.” Yet even through all that fear and lack of understanding, Slater was able to live openly as a gay man. “If you are in a big city (like California), it’s usually okay,” he says of the prevailingly tolerant environment that large cities offer to people with alternative sexual preferences in the US. “A gay couple can often show public affection and not get into trouble for this, but this is not the same in smaller towns.”

And it is usually not the same in other countries where homosexuality is openly condemned and criminalised. In some parts of the world, penalties against homosexual practice are as extreme as the death penalty. And while efforts have been made to decriminalise homosexuality, globally, same-sex couples do not often enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples. In many countries, gay partners can neither marry legally nor adopt children.

South Africa, however, shows signs of change and optimism for the homosexual community. In 2006, South Africa became the first African country to give same-sex couples the right to marry. The Civil Union Act – the piece of legislation passed to endorse this – offers gay couples the same rights and recognition as heterosexuals.

But, as Sally-Jean Shackleton, Executive Director of Women’s Net, a South African gender NGO, points out, “There is positive legislation but the negative side of this is that in practice, the lives of those who challenge the binary construct of gender are still very much in danger.”

Along with facing acts of violence, Shackleton feels that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersexual people (or LGBTI) are often marginalised in HIV programming. “Only LGBTI groups are driving the process,” she states, citing examples of the unavailability of dental dams – for protection during oral sex between women – as a way that the HIV protection needs of lesbians were not being met.  Dental dams are thin, square pieces of latex that are used for oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex and are also usually used in dental procedures, hence their name. “Men can protect themselves with condoms but the same is not true for women.”

Shackleton also states the fact that mainstream healthcare providers are often not places where LGBTI can get information on HIV prevention tools that suit their needs. Also, the double stigma of being termed sexually non-conformist, as well as HIV positive, is noted as a deterrent for many in seeking HIV prevention, treatment, care and support options. “People are afraid to be visible,” adds Slater. “It’s ten times harder to come forward if you are HIV positive and homosexual, at the same time.”

Amy, not her real name, is a 24-year old Lebanese woman who echoes Shackleton’s sentiments. “Society tends to classify LGBTI all the same,” she says. This, she feels generalises the different issues they face individually, and does not adequately address the specific needs and services that they require.

Amy classifies herself as ‘queer’ and says that for herself, there is no such concept as being a man or a woman. As such, she does classify herself, or her sexual preferences, by this dual system.

“People see us as perverts and think that they need to ‘heal’ people like me and others, by correcting us through hormone injections or a sex change,” adds Amy.

Slater mentions that homosexuals also tend to be commodified as ‘wedges’ used in electoral campaigns to either win or lose votes. “(George) Bush used the fact that candidates like (Al)Gore and (John) Kerry were tolerant of homosexual issues as a way to scare away conservatives from voting for them,” he states of the previous US president’s election campaigns.

It is thus respect for different beliefs, as well as enactment and implementation of enabling legislation that Slater, Shackleton and Amy all wish for. “We need to support alternative ideas around masculinity and promote alternative role models as a means of creating an enabling environment for all to freely express themselves,” says Shackleton.

“Governments need to stop being stupid!” states Slater. “And cultures need to stop ostracising people who are different. “

MPS: check your greed

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Thursday, June 25th, 2009 by Bev Clark

I’m feeling rather ragged this morning after a night of tossing and turning.

I guess reading The Economist’s Book of Obituaries at 10pm didn’t help, but nor did the 4 gunshots at 11:23 or a suspected attack from a tick or other associated pet vermin between the sheets at 12:01. After shining my mobile phone torch between my legs and other interesting places and getting the all clear on the vermin front my mind settled back on Zimbabwe. I started thinking of Tom Soper, a young man recently severely injured in a car accident. It seems like, at this stage, he’s paralysed from the neck down. He’s 37, a husband and father of two. I don’t know the full circumstances of the accident but what I do know is that the traffic lights at the intersection where the collison occured had not been working for some months. Of course working traffic lights don’t mean no accidents but they certainly help make our roads safer. Over the last several years we’ve experienced a devastating failure of infrastructure and service provision and delivery in Zimbabwe. Non-working and malfunctioning traffic lights might seem a low priority on our long list of Things To Get Working Again but when you give a moments thought to Tom Soper and the many other people who have been injured or killed on our roads, traffic lights become a much more serious issue.

I get more than uptight when I think of Zimbabwean MPs demanding US$30 000 car loans when in the majority of cases a US$10 000 car would do the trick except perhaps for Mr MP in Binga. Because in order for us to get things working again in Zimbabwe we all need to be watching our behaviour, monitoring our greed, and instilling fiscal responsiblity in our lives – MPs included. How about some of the money for these oversized car loans going to getting our roads safer?

And of course those of us living in Harare realise that there is ONE traffic light that absolutely never malfunctions. It’s the one on the corner of 7th Street and Tongogara Avenue. I mean what would the guards at State House do if that particular intersection became congested and mayhem ensued like at numerous other spots in the capital city – they wouldn’t know which way to point their bayonets.

Silent waves

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Thursday, June 25th, 2009 by Susan Pietrzyk

One evening after a great day, I sent an SMS message to a friend.  ZESA is not my friend tonight, I typed with my thumbs.   This was my way to whine about a power cut at my flat.  As anyone in Zimbabwe would do, my friend replied with empathy for my predicament.  She encouraged me to find something to do that did not require electricity.  She made many viable suggestions.  I remained firm in my anger and refused to take up any of her suggestions.  I just sat there in the dark.  As we continued exchanging SMS’s, I noticed that the sounds emanating from my cell phone were the only sounds I could hear.  Otherwise, I was contained by a silent space.  Made ever the more silent by darkness.  I was sitting in a hollow respite, that damn ZESA muted my evening.

The silence was a departure from the loudness of my day.  A day which had been inspiring with its many voices, movements, interactions, and images.  The day had been like a series of waves, which hit and inspired me.  Like when at the beach.  You first see waves in the distance.  Watch them take shape and gain strength as they move forward.  Then the waves hit.  You feel enthralled and energized by the way the water feels on your skin and by the uplifting power the waves possess.   Before you know it, waves make their way to shore; they crash and peacefully blend into the sand with a sound of accomplishment.   Many more waves follow this same path.  Waves almost never stop.  Throughout my busy and loud day it was like being in the waves.   Then in the evening it was like all waves were gone, blended into the sand, but creating only silences.

I’m thinking this contradiction of my day­loud waves and silent spaces­lends insight into understanding Zimbabwe.  This combination, however contradictory it is, also is not.  The fight to be heard is at one point loud and at other points silent.   Zimbabwe is a place of silent waves.  In sight are Zimbabwean waves forming paths toward visibility and weight.  However, uncontrollable forces drive the waves astray.  You are absorbed by the certitude of Zimbabwean waves, one that incisively convey the problems which bedevil the country.   But so much renders these waves into a world of what is explained away as the new norm.  The body feels and experiences the forward moving momentum of Zimbabwean waves.  Yet these waves have a way of retreating, without crash or sound, into the sand.   Zimbabwean waves persist, but they seem to follow a dual path.  In bringing the contradiction full circle, at once Zimbabwean waves persist in both their loudness and in their silence.

Morgan “rhetoric” Tsvangirai

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Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 by Bev Clark

Newlands Shopping Centre in Harare used to be a fairly happening kind of place. There was a buzz, parking was hard to find, vendors were hard to side-step – healthy signs of life. These days its pulse is flickering and fading. At least 5 shops, including one of Zimbabwe’s best brand names, Bata, have closed down. The stalwart of Zimbabwean restaurants, The Sitar, now closes on Tuesdays after being renowned for non stop curry 7 days a week. Tracks, the bar/cafe that used to be pom pom full most days has been boarded up for possibly a year. The three telephone booths outside the post office are derelict. Rubbish bins are overflowing and seldom cleared out. Holes in the pavements aren’t fixed and get filled with passer-by debris.

In my office block there’s seldom power from the Zimbabwe Electricty Supply Authority (ZESA). If it wasn’t for the largesse of a major international NGO that installed a generator to service the whole building we’d all be up shit creek. Ground floor shops that used to sell something are closing. One of these shops has had a woman sitting at a desk in the middle of it looking bored out of her skull. Occasionally she sits in the front window – a living but barely breathing human mannequin. A book store has an array of what looks like 1970 Home and Garden magazines for sale; they’ve been laying on the walkway outside the front door for what seems like the last 6 months. At Alberto’s Hairdressing Salon you don’t have to make an appointment anymore. It’s clear that business is slow because often his hair washers and trainee stylists are in the chairs themselves whiling the day away with experiments in all things hair and beauty. A waiter at Libby’s restaurant pulled me aside yesterday and asked me if I had a job for his son who has a degree in engineering; anything will do was the refrain. Meanwhile a young boy who looks no more than 16 has lethargically started to sweep the steps because the two brother janitors who used to clean the place have both died in the last 8 months. Most likely from AIDS but lack of food and low wages clearly didn’t help.

In our own way we try help. We called in The Garbage Guys to try and get a business to clean up because the City of Harare can’t, or won’t. We support local shops. We contribute to funeral funds. We share information. We give out clothes. We join community initiatives to look at ways of stablising power supply.

As I write this email the security guard for our office block is walking up an down each floor ringing a bell warning us that the fuel is running out and the generator is about to be switched off.

It’s not a pretty picture is it? This is the reality on my little patch of ground and there are other far worse examples.

Morgan Tsvangirai has been spouting rhetoric rather than the truth on his recent world tour. How soon before we all start saying that he’s seriously out of touch? A bit like how we’ve been describing his small friend Mugabe for so long.