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Archive for August, 2009

Food for thought

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Monday, August 31st, 2009 by Zanele Manhenga

Who could have thought that the average Jill and James, at the bottom of the pyramid, would be somehow be the hope to a nation’s economic plague? But this is the case, according to the Food for Thought discussion forum that I attended last Tuesday. The presenter said if we start to acknowledge that the poor people are central to building up our economy, Zimbabwe could be well up on its economic feet in no time at all. What we have to do is try to get the vast majority buying goods at a very, very low cost. By so doing one can build a market that caters for people that would still buy bread at ten cents instead of a dollar. And you will make more money than the person selling bread for a dollar. The essence of his presentation was that goods that are normally very expensive are meant to be bought by the few at the top of the pyramid. If those same goods were available to some of us at the bottom, we would feel a sense of belonging, and thus trust and a relationship are built between the retailer and the customer. This in turn becomes the chance for a businessman to make billions at the bottom of the pyramid. However he did talk about the disadvantages of this business move. It means that the common person is often exposed to substandard goods.

Isn’t it ironic?

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Monday, August 31st, 2009 by Fungai Machirori

It is indeed a paradox, an anachronistic piece of art that really got me thinking. Make no mistakes, the painting itself is beautiful. With precise oil paint brushstrokes, the piece, entitled “A Landmark in History” depicts the opening of the first session of the first parliament of Southern Rhodesia in 1924, with the pomp and ceremony (and even the Union Jack) that the motherland, England, would surely have been proud of.

And of course, not a single black face is seen amid the sea of attentive faces. White women, yes – but not a glimpse of a ‘native’. Probably, the only black people allowed into parliament back then were the tea boys and others tasked with menial chores.

All the same, the painting is beautiful and I am sure, an accurate depiction of events.

But, I also mentioned that it is paradoxical.

I didn’t happen upon this painting hanging in some historical museum or art gallery. In fact, the portrait has its place on one of the walls in the hallways of present day Zimbabwe’s parliament – a parliament made up of many politicians who would, if they could, wipe out any trace of European history within Zimbabwe.

I am sure that I need not bore you with the details of how Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe detests the west and argues that it is imposing illegal sanctions on us.  But I will remind you of a grating statement he once made addressing British interest in Zimbabwe’s political issues. “So, [Tony] Blair keep your England, and let me keep my Zimbabwe,” he said in his oration at the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

A loaded statement which we could ponder all day long.

But ultimately a statement which spells out Mugabe’s desire to rid the nation of all artefacts and persons that hark back to the time of colonialism. The white farmers have gone and for a time, it seemed so would the English names of public institutions (such as high schools called Townsend and Milton) which to the then government, seemed a way of idolising an imperfect past.

But somehow, those names survived – just like that painting hanging in parliament building today.

Ironic, isn’t it?

My audition, a dream

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Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Zanele Manhenga

Just when you think you have got something, it goes away. I tell you I thought I had it but that was not so. I could almost see the ten thousand strong crowds at various venues around Europe cheering for more. When I first auditioned for the Daughters of Africa European tour, that was my hope and dream. Forgive me but that is like the dream of every performer in the world – to be applauded for something that comes so natural to you but that is so hard to sustain and maintain. Maybe that was my problem; that I forgot that it’s a full time job to always be calm as a performer. So when I made the next stage of the auditions, the top 10 in fact, I was sure this one was coming to me. My turn came and boy did I shake like I hadn’t ever sung in my life before. I was very aware of this feeling but I tried so hard to impress the judge that I did not take the time to persuade myself to calm down. And to tell myself hey you, you have sung before . . . Yes not in front of a big shot arts promoter, but you have sung before. But I guess if it’s not yet time things don’t always go the way you want. So as I write this I don’t write with a heart full of pain but full of lessons learnt; one of them being always come prepared to feel that one person in front of you might feel like ten thousand, and also be prepared and aware of the nerves running through your body.

NGOs need to empower themselves

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Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa

I’m beginning to think that the term ‘empowerment’ is fancy NGO parlance for giving people permission to think for themselves. I went to the NGO Expo yesterday and I met a lot of NGO workers who appeared not to be ‘empowered’. It was a work assignment. So being ‘empowered’ by my NGO, I spoke to other NGOs about who Kubatana is and what we do. I should mention here that I do not labour under the title of Communication / Information and Advocacy Officer, I was merely doing my job as someone belonging to an organization: that is promoting its agenda and furthering its goals (ultimately that is the purpose of anyone’s job). Imagine my surprise, being an ‘empowered’ NGO worker, to find that other NGO workers were not as ‘empowered’ as I was, although they throw that particular term around like its free money.

I really don’t understand how some (not all, there were some organizations who had people that were very ‘empowered’) NGOs get on their soapboxes about ‘empowerment’ and fail to ‘empower’ their own people to speak to the media? Surely this is a basic marketing principle? The Expo is after all a marketing tool. I may not be very experienced in all things marketing, but I am familiar with the term Brand Ambassador, and with the principle of making every single person in an organization , from the Director to the cleaner, a Brand Ambassador. Making an organisations functionaries Brand Ambassadors means ensuring that every one knows what the organization is about, what it does, its hopes and aspirations for the future and more importantly why the existence of that organization is necessary. More than that, they are able (or shall we say ‘empowered’?) to speak to anyone at any time about it. Therefore, in an organization that believes enough in its own vision to invest in its people to do the same, anyone, Information Officer or not can answer basic questions about what their organizations does.

At one NGO, when I asked to interview to the Information Officer, she refused point blank to talk to me. At another, we spent most of what was a lovely afternoon trying to reach Head Office so we could get permission for an interview. I had spoken to the Information Officers earlier, who then gave me the run around. You might well wonder what sort of scary questions I was going ask that would elicit such reactions. They were simple: what issues that organization was currently focusing on; how the current political environment affected their work; how they (and here’s a key word), communicate with their constituencies; and the most controversial one of all: how they stay inspired in their work.

The NGO Expo was to give those NGOs who chose to exhibit an opportunity to get their issues out there. But they failed to ‘empower’ their Communication/ Information and Advocacy Officers to communicate to the public and media, and advocate their organizations objectives. So what exactly have they achieved by exhibiting? How are these organizations going to achieve their objectives, EVER, if their own people are poor representations of the organization? It seems to me that marketing is the least of their problems, and next year the money would be better spent in training their people to better represent their organization. I can’t really blame the functionaries for being afraid to speak out of turn. I blame the administrators and directors who create all the red tape in the first place. They are no better than government officials for having created such nonsensical rules for the dissemination of information.

The beginning of the hot dry season

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Thursday, August 27th, 2009 by Bev Reeler

rustle of dry wind in dry grass,
sucking moisture from every pore
heating the earth to a dry crust

it is the beginning of the hot dry season
the time of flowering
of insects awakening
and bees collecting
and a bird sipping nectar held in a scarlet petal

. . . no rain for 2 months still

what trust is it then
the masasas lend to the future
flushing in heart-stopping gold,
painting crimson,
what source of water
invisible beneath the earth
do their searching roots touch
to feed these new shining leaves

overhead the skies are broken by fighter planes
demonstrating the power of dictators
to the crowds at the agricultural show
- where the farmers are absent
- and the farms are abandoned
and the empty words of politicians hang heavy in the air

out there,
on some granite kopje
a group of councillors from both parties
share their stories of hurt and shame
walking the path where light and shadow meet

out there on some granite kopje
courageous people explore the possibility
of a new way of being
of seeing
of hope

of trusting the future
and sending roots down in search
of invisible deep water

walking the dry earth
trusting the journey

But are you really Zimbabwean?

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Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 by Fungai Machirori

There’s something that makes many people who don’t know me think that I am not a Zimbo upon first meeting me.

No, it’s not the Bohemian dressing and my propensity to mix colours that should otherwise never be assembled together within one outfit (although some say that that is why they think I am Jamaican/ Kenyan/ Brazilian etc.).

It is actually more about my jelly belly and all those other spongy bits on my body.

“Hawu sisi, but you can’t be a Zimbabwean,” a South African woman once argued as we rummaged through clothes in a boutique in Polokwane together. A few minutes before, she had tried to engage me in a conversation in Xhosa and I had politely informed her that I didn’t understand what she was saying.

And so she asked, “Are you Kenyan?”

“No,” I said.

“Mozambican, Malawian, American, Jamaican?”

“Zimbabwean,” I finally said to stop her from reciting all the nations on the global map.

But she didn’t believe me.

With a look at me from my head through my middle and then straight down to my toes, she concluded, “You are too healthy to be Zimbabwean.”

This was at the peak of the cholera epidemic when it seemed that the whole Zimbabwean population would be wiped out by the scourge.

And what she meant was that I was too fleshy, too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to be coming from a collapsing country.

She is not the only one who has said this to me.

It seems everywhere I go, people have a perception that Zimbabwe is just a sorry pit in the ground infested with starvation and disease.

And why wouldn’t they? Any international news about us is all doom and gloom, horrifying statistics and depressing facts – no images of smiling healthy people.

So when you are the only Zimbabwean a person has had the opportunity to meet, the shock that yes, you do wear clean clothes, look well-fed and articulate – is all too much for them to bear. You should actually be half-way to dead and completely dejected.

Now that CNN, BBC and all the other foreign media stations have been allowed back into Zimbabwe, I truly hope that they will begin to beam messages of hope and happiness about this dear nation once more. One of my favourite sayings states that in the world, there is great suffering; but also great overcoming of it. That saying could have been written for the plight of Zimbabwe and its people.