Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Archive for June, 2009

Using Facebook to start a fire

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Friday, June 19th, 2009 by Fungai Machirori

If you are a boss, the next time you catch one of your staff members on Facebook, don’t be too brutal with them.

Facebook is actually not all that bad for your business.

That is, unless, your employees use the social marketing tool merely for catching up with long lost friends and chatting with relatives in the Diaspora about the situation back home in Zimbabwe. That would certainly qualify as gross abuse of office time.

But Facebook and business do actually mix.

Initially, Facebook (or ‘thefacebook’, as it was known then) was created as a tool for students attending Harvard University to keep track of one another. It was founded in 2004 by former Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg, and later grew to allow even more educational institutions to be able to access the tool.  In 2005, ‘thefacebook’ was officially launched as Facebook. And in 2006, it was made freely accessible to those who were not members of educational institutions – that is, the global public.

And so what started as a simple university campus project has since sprouted to become one of the biggest global social networking fora. Regardless of nationality and bandwidth allowances, almost everyone is using FB – as it is affectionately known – as a way to stay in touch. And today, tens of millions of people around the world log on to Facebook to share news and information of all kinds.

So how does Facebook help your business?

Well, if many of your business contacts are registered users on Facebook, it can make keeping in touch with them much easier. With Facebook, you don’t need to know email addresses or any other contact details.  Once both you and the other user have confirmed each other as friends on Facebook, you gain easy access to one another – which means that you can compose and send mail which the other person will be notified of via their usual email address, or which they will see upon logging on to their Facebook account. This certainly saves time on trying to guess which email address a person may be using at a certain time.

Secondly, Facebook helps you to get back in touch with important contacts whom you might have lost track of. All you have to do is conduct a search by simply typing in the name of your contact. Facebook then aggregates all of its members that have the same name, or a similar name. Once you have found the right person, you send them a friend request, which is a formal request for that person to become your friend on Facebook. If that person accepts your friend request, you become able to see their details and information, and vice versa.

But even more important is the fact that on Facebook, members can create groups. If you want to, you can create a group for your organisation, company, advocacy campaign or cause. When creating the group, you can give some information about it so that users on Facebook can know whether or not they would like to join it.

So how, you might ask, will people find out about your group.

For me, this is really where the social aspect of Facebook becomes evident. If I join a group which a friend tells me about on Facebook, a notice will appear on my Facebook homepage – which is visible to all of my friends. If one of my friends sees this notice and is interested, they can also join the group. And this information will be visible to all of that person’s friends, who can then also join the group. So, a friend of a friend of a friend can find out something new just by the web of associations that Facebook allows. In addition, the administrator (or creator) of a group can send invitations to Facebook friends to join that group.

Personally, I think that it is a low-cost, efficient way of disseminating information.

And if a person joins a group, they will always receive notices of new information that the group might have posted. For instance, many Zimbabweans, and those around the world, joined a Facebook group called ‘Free Jestina’ in solidarity with the imprisoned human rights activist, Jestina Mukoko. And through this group, they received regular updates on her trial status, as well as any events being held in solidarity with her plight.

And as a fourth point, commercial and non-commercial entities are fast realising the potential that Facebook has to boost their profiles with the public. Just visit popular websites like BBC or the South African Mail and Guardian and scroll down some of the pages on offer. There, you will see the Facebook icon and words to the effect ‘Add to Facebook’, or a bookmark icon that will reveal the FB icon, among others, when clicked on. If you click on that icon and give your Facebook account details when prompted to do so, a small teaser and URL to that particular news story, audio or video clip will be added to your Facebook page.

But in order for your friends to see the whole article or clip, when they click on the same URL, they will be re-transferred to that very page on that particular website. And in effect what you, as the Facebook user, do is stimulate traffic on that website. And this is what any company or organisation with a website would like.

But of course, the utility of Facebook presupposes reliable and constant access to the Internet – something which is not uniform throughout Zimbabwe. And because of this, this social tool tends to skip a large portion of its key targets.

However, for those with regular access to the Internet, Facebook is well worth considering as a tool for effective marketing and communication. And rather than ban employees from using it, think of innovative ways of how they can use it to spread the word of your cause to their many friends around the world, who can then spread the message on to even more people.

You may call Facebook a waste of time. And I do agree that if a person spends the whole morning doing Facebook quizzes titled “What type of cheese are you?” or “Which Russian Princess are you?”, then that is of no use to anybody.  But I am still optimistic about FB and like to think of it as the spark that has the potential to start a good warm fire of information dissemination in our nation.

Chematama’s chopper

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Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Amanda Atwood

Above the drone of the generator, I can hear the helicopters roaring past, taking Mugabe back to State House. Tsvangirai now has a motorcade & a portrait. What’s next – Chematama’s chopper?

Africans grovel

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Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Bev Clark

I’ve been watching the unfolding events in Iran with quite some envy. The protests following what is regarded as a stolen election are impressive, more so because they’re taking place in Iran which is consistently described as repressive. Footage being shown on major news channels show what riot police are like the world over – vicious and uncompromising. Yet, 6 days on, protesters are still going out onto the streets making their displeasure known and felt, and forcing the Iranian authorities to display their repression in all its ugliness. Really, we Zimbabweans have no excuse for our apathy and our victim mentality. The lament that we’d be shot or beaten if we protested over our (many) stolen elections has become a pitying whine. People have been and are protesting repression all over the world yet we cower in our littler corner of the world. If we’d behaved differently; if we had taken the courage that sustains us in our homes whilst we “make a plan” quietly suffering the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, and used that courage to spill out onto the streets in the vast numbers that despise the small dictator then we’d be experiencing something quite different from this odious, half baked political arrangement that we currently have. As John Githongo, the Kenyan corruption buster recently said . . .

Africans are the most subservient people on earth when faced with force, intimidation, power. Africa, all said and done, is a place where we grovel before leaders.

Enough patronising political posturing

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Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Amanda Atwood

On Monday, the front page story on the state controlled Zimbabwe Herald newspaper announced: National healing begins. The article quoted from Vice President Joyce Mujuru’s address at a (belated!) International Women’s Day event in Bindura. Apparently, Mujuru said that a national healing taskforce, set up by the government, “is going to ensure that all our grievances are addressed to the satisfaction of the involved parties. The national healing programme is coming down to the grassroots and will leave no stone unturned in handling every grievance.”

Something about this statement left me uneasy. Maybe it is the top down approach that government seems to be taking regarding “national healing.” I do think some kind of national reconciliation process might be an important part of resolving some of Zimbabwe’s national scars. But for this process to be truly meaningful and effective, I think ordinary Zimbabweans need first to be involved in agreeing on what this process should look like. What are the objectives? Will there be prosecution or just discussion? Is there some kind of process for restorative measure, or is it just a space to air testimonials? How will those who testify be protected from future retaliation?

Also worrying about Mujuru’s remarks at Bindura was the dismissive way in which she spoke about violence on the ground. “Do not waste time fighting each other,” she told the crowd. “We, your leaders, would be drinking coffee together. President Mugabe mooted the idea of the inclusive Government after realising the enemy was infiltrating us and taking advantage of our political differences. Come and see us at Parliament, we will be drinking and eating together across the political divide.”

This wilful rewriting of history – and the deliberate distancing of top political leaders from violence carried out on their behalf by those much farther down the political tree – is deeply worrying. How genuine can a proposed government healing process be if political leaders are not willing to take responsibility for their role in encouraging violence?

A recent Institute for Security Studies article by Max du Plessis and Joloyn Ford outlines and articulate several reasons both for and against a truth and reconciliation process for Zimbabwe. One reason against a Zimbabwean TRC is that “social forgetting” is a valid strategy for processing grievances. In Sierra Leone, for example, the ordinary citizenry, “who were tired, afraid and too well acquainted with ‘the truth’ of the violence,” preferred to “forgive and forget.” Other reasons not to engage in an organised national healing process include a desire to leave the past behind, potential of the process to be a source of conflict, that it would be a waste of scarce and precious resources, and that there is a cynicism associated with reconciliation that is seen as to strictly political.

However, the authors write, “most experience in other societies points the other way, especially when there are concerns about who gets to decide what is ‘forgotten.’ The passive response to Rhodesian-era abuses has left many legacies sill affecting Zimbabwe today, including a culture of impunity. Other reasons for a TRC include the symbolic closure of a violent chapter of Zimbabwe’s history, creating a forum for forgiveness, and a desire to channel tensions into more constructive outlets.

Importantly the paper asks: “Where will Zimbabewans place themselves in relation to politics and principles of justice in the current interim phase – and who gets to decide for Zimbabweans on these issues?”

Worryingly, in light of documented reports of ongoing political violence in Domboshawa, Chilimanzi, Cahsel, Marondera, Masvingo, Mberengwa, Mudzi, Mutoko, Muzarabani, Odzi and Shamva, it may be too soon to think about a TRC for Zimbabwe’s poltical violence since 2000. In the past two months, 27 farms have been invaded, displacing 3310 farm workers and their families. While violence continues, an arbitrary “end” date, like the swearing in of the interim government, might leave many important current cases unresolved. Surely it is too soon to begin a TRC whilst violence is still occurring? What about fears of retaliatory attacks against those who testify, if peace has not yet been achieved on the ground?

Zimbabweans deserve the respect of substance, not patronising political posturing. We need a real end to the violence, actual peace, and genuine healing.

What about the Children?

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Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Bev Reeler

On Friday the Tree of Life team sat with parents from Epworth and Whitecliffe communities and heard about their fears  for their children.

This time last year
when the youth militia rampaged through their neighbourhoods in ‘preparation’ for the elections
the children went through the most terrifying ordeals one can imagine.
They were taken to the militia bases,
they watched their mothers being raped,
their fathers beaten and tortured
and they were beaten and raped themselves
they watched their houses being burned down
and their parents killed

the fabric of their lives destroyed

and a year later they still live in the ashes
with old memories haunting their dreams

Nothing has been done for the children

‘They visited hell’ said one mother who had her 8 year old son taken for 3 months
‘and they still live in fear – for it has not gone away
they are still training the militia for the next elections’

And then we began speaking of the healing
and of Chiyedza offering her skills in drama and counselling
to go out to the communities to help teach new ways of working
We heard people offer their small houses as venues
and their time to learn techniques of counselling
These people who have been stripped of their livelihoods
volunteering to help protect the orphans
and repair the damage
what little they had – they were prepared to share.

‘For these children are the parents of the new generations’ they said

Utterly shaken we came out of the meeting
to the news that the years funding we had asked for
had been reduced to a bridging loan for 3 months

Throughout civic society
those groups who, on meagre budgets, have helped with the healing
and with gathering the orphans
the groups that help hold the dignity of the nation
are struggling to survive

“there is no money for Zimbabwe (global economic crisis/ unstable government/uncertainty/hold up in funding/etc.) sorry for that”

so we have to wait
wait for the children
a year
a lifetime

It is mid-winter
the leaves are falling
the grass is dry
beige-gold world  lit by the first crimson lucky bean trees
and filled with butterflies

Excuse me, I speak Ger-nglish!

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Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Fungai Machirori

Back when I was a little girl, in Bulawayo, my sister and I would frequent the Indian grocery store down our road to buy ourselves the cheap fruity sweets that cost only a cent each.

“Warrr you want?” would ask the old Indian storekeeper’s wife, purring away in her broken English. At her question, we would let out a few unrepressed giggles, and then point to the clear jar on the counter, filled with the bright-coloured balls of sweets.

Meanwhile the storekeeper would be carrying on the most laughter-inducing conversations with one or other of his Zimbabwean employees. “You!” he would shout, “Hamba thatha sinkwa, faka lapha.”

In translation, this is an instruction, given in IsiNdebele, for the employee to go to the delivery van parked outside and bring in the loaves of bread ordered for the shop for that day.

But though understandable, the instructions would be given in what is often called ‘chilapalapa’ – language that is neither syntactically correct, nor complete, but which is coherent enough to be understood.

Because we were so young and laughed ruthlessly at the couple’s language gaffes, my sister and I were not the shop owners’ favourite customers at all.

In fact, the storekeeper’s wife eventually took to hiding that jar of one-cent sweets each time she saw us passing outside the shop window, just so we wouldn’t come in.

I often cringe when I think about how rude we were.

But as life would have it, today I find myself in the very same situation. Little children, probably the same age as I was, laugh at me now, each time I try to string together a sentence in German.  Suddenly, I am the foreigner whose thoughts are unintelligible!

What goes around, indeed, comes around!

Having been in Germany for three weeks now, and having taken a short German lesson course during that time, I feel it only right that I should try to blend in with the crowd with a few sentences in the local language.

But alas, my tongue almost always fails me when it comes to all those guttural sounds that one must produce when speaking German.

And this is why the little boys and girls tug at their mothers’ coats and laugh as I try to order a meal or find out how much something costs. Perhaps it’s better that I can’t understand what they will be saying to their mothers as they point at me, giggle then whisper in German!

How degrading it feels when the shoe is on the other foot!

But kids will be kids.

The grown-ups are always quite patient, though, and often willing to try their own shaky English when we can’t seem to click in German. And what ends up ensuing is an informative conversation in pure pidgin. “Where is die … err… die zug, please,” I might say, asking for directions to the train station. ( I always seem to get lost when I meander about on my own!) “Dast ist over ze,” the person might respond, pointing in the direction of the train station. “Ah, dankeschon,” I will respond, giving my thanks in unadulterated German, before scampering off to the station to bother yet another stranger with more of my Ger-nglish!