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Archive for December, 2009

Is a snip really in time and saving nine?

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Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Natasha Msonza

This is a bit personal but I sit here right now battling in my head what to do next in view of a conversation I just had with a very close relative of mine.  First she texts me, Please call urgently. I immediately start panicking thinking something is wrong, however I succeed in making that call. She wants to take her two sons aged 19 and 22 to Harare Hospital to get circumcised, so they will need a ride from there. I have no problem delivering them to and from the hospital. When I put down the phone initially, I think nothing of it. Then it hit me. Knowing how overbearing this particular relative (call her aunt Mabel) can get – there was a huge possibility that the two boys were being forced to go through this procedure. So I call her back to find out more and I wasn’t off the mark. That has become the new policy for the boys as long as they live under her roof and eat her food. In talking to her further I find out that this circumcision business – which in my books is just another one of the latest but fleeting donor fashion fads – has had a huge appeal on her and her colleagues. No matter what I tried to explain to her, I could sense that in a way Aunt Mabel believes that this one procedure is what could spare her boys a debilitating death ‘in these HIV days’.  I have begun to feel like such an accomplice to a heinous crime. Most of my adult life I have sought to protest against violation of human rights and now here I am caught in a conspiracy to take my cousins for circumcision against their will. If Aunt Mabel was going to be this cruel, I wonder why she didn’t just get it done when the boys were still babies, without a care and not in a position to make decisions for themselves. Surely that option was available long before then?

Although I understand and appreciate the benefits of male circumcision, I feel that efforts to dispel the lurking notion that this procedure prevents HIV infection have not been nearly as frantic as has been it’s marketing as a prevention method. A lot of people, including my aunt sincerely believe that if there is so much noise around this subject, there must be some immense life saving benefit to it. And there are in fact some immense benefits, just not entirely life saving. The watered down explanation that circumcision reduces chances of HIV infection, although the risk is still far too high and that condoms and safe sex must still be used is confusing a lot of people. I also think the concept of male circumcision has become a tad overrated.  And I can only but imagine how many young boys out there are meekly being led by overbearing mothers like sheep to the slaughter to get circumcised against their wishes.

Although the risks outweigh the benefits, I’m sure that if I were a guy, I’d appreciate having the final decision lying with me thank you, and circumcision, like all surgical procedures, has a risk of complications and adverse effects that include bleeding, infection, surgical error, injury to the penis, and adverse reactions to anesthesia, not to mention the 4-6 weeks of agony that male adults have to live with while waiting for the wound to heal.  I am also made to understand that foreskin removal desensitizes the penis head, and contrary to popular belief, sex is less stimulating compared to those who have their skins intact. In essence, the main benefit of foreskin removal is hygiene and aesthetics. I am pretty sure given the full info that a lot of men would then rather keep what God gave them. This is however not to say that it is a bad idea. Studies have shown that indeed, chances of circumcised men developing urinary tract infections and their female partners having cervical cancer are greatly reduced.

A friend of mine thinks that I am probably fretting needlessly and that the boys might actually be interested in undergoing this procedure. Perhaps they would like to be circumcised, but I doubt under such circumstances. In any case, I can imagine them now all grown up and feeling that they were mutilated and deprived of an important structure of their original anatomy without their consent. A lot of men are just as obsessed about this as those who clamor to be circumcised. It has also been suggested that the operation may cause psychological trauma. It is therefore a good thing that facilities offering this service provide counseling first. I think they must also have their clients sign consent forms and that in the case where they are forced but do not want to go through with the procedure, they can just come out without having it done and through doctor-patient confidentiality, their parents would never find out.

Today is perfect

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Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Bev Reeler

In the green-filtered sunlight through the closing canopy
the rain washed garden sparkles with joy

people standing on the freezing streets of Copenhagen
hold candles of hope for the planet
whilst the world leaders haggle about responsibility
in warm lit rooms

candles burning on the streets
for a belief in a planet and a spirit of caring that is wider than themselves

This has been a long year in Zimbabwe
walking the steps of survival
at a time when the work of healing and community building and empowerment
has been handicapped by lack of funded support
and the stark reality of giving up /closing down
has had to be faced
or to try to continue their work
holding on to the web of good intentions

For the last months of this year,
in the face of disaster
the Tree of Life was held in place by a web of love
of witnessing and donations from individuals from all over the planet
who dared  to care . . .

without them we would have lost our step

to all those people we would like to express our deepest gratitude
for caring about something that is wider than yourselves

With these donations we are able to keep the rural workshops going.

Politics of condemnation

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Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 by Amanda Atwood

Zanu PF held their National People’s Congress last week. The Congress resolved that “the Party’s national strategic objective for the next five years shall be the checking, containment and ultimate defeat of the West’s neo-colonial regime change agenda.”

Other highlights of the Congress resolutions include:

  • Congress has noted that the national economy continues to be under siege from the machinations of the Western detractors and their internal MDC surrogates.
  • Congress has noted that the Inclusive Government brings the Party into partnership with ideologically incompatible MDC Formations from which it must extricate itself in order to retain its mantle as the only dominant and ascendant political party that is truly representative and determined to safeguard the aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe.
  • Congress condemns, in the strongest of terms, the reckless actions of the Minister of Finance, T. Biti, in particular his abuse of constitutional authority to prevent the release of the US$510 million IMF Global Financial Crisis mitigation facility, his systematic denial of seasonal support to the agricultural sector and his peanut budget for the year 2010 in pursuance of petty personal ambitions and the parochial reactionary agenda of his MDC Formation.
  • There should be no movement on the concerns of the MDC Formations without corresponding and simultaneous redress of ZANU-PF’s concerns such as the illegal Western sanctions, Western Funded pirate radio broadcasts and Western interference in Zimbabwe’s internal politics through the funding of parallel government structures and the sponsoring of political activities of NGOs as a force multiplier for the MDC Formations.
  • Condemns, in the strongest terms, the continuing violation of Zimbabwe’s airwaves by the Voice of America Studio 7, Voice of the People, Short Wave Radio Africa and a myriad of Internet based platforms in blatant breach of the GPA.

Discuss these resolutions with your friends and family. Plan how you can get involved in rejecting intolerance – and building positive politics – in 2010. Read the full text of their resolutions here and leave us your comments below.

A Christmas to forget

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Monday, December 14th, 2009 by Marko Phiri

It was Christmas in the city of Bulawayo. However, the Christmas spirit was palpably absent as working men and women had very empty pockets. The kids well, their stomachs were just as empty.

“A mean old man whom you don’t know stole Christmas,” a father said after his hungry children asked him why he had not bought them rice and chicken and brand new clothes. As he spoke, he reached for a brown plastic container popularly known as a scud and downed the contents. The children followed his every move as he lifted the scud from the old table and to his visibly filthy mouth. Froth from the opaque beer stained his upper lip and, turning the back of his hand into a serviette, he wiped the froth filled filthy mouth.

“I’m drowning my sorrows,” the father said when the wife asked how come he could afford to buy a scud for himself but not a litre of Coca-cola for her and the kids.

“I cannot get drunk on Coca-cola,” the perpetually bitter and broke husband said, half to the wife and half to himself. He suddenly felt his head getting woozy. The scud was doing a terrific job taking him to a land where there were no ruling parties: just people minding their own business.

The wife wept. Four hungry little children all yet to reach their seventh birthday watched as the man they called papa took huge quaffs of opaque beer and wondered if this was Santa Claus’s idea of a merry Christmas.

Elsewhere in the same city, a woman screamed. The moon and the stars looked down without emotion. It was not the scream of unfettered festive ecstasy. The woman had bolted from a house in the high density neighbourhood semi-naked with a man with only his boxers on in hot pursuit. “I will kill you, you stupid cunt. Come back I’m not done with you,” the man yelled as the woman disappeared into the night, her bare breasts jiggling violently. But some place elsewhere Christmas bells jingled merrily. A night of passion gone terribly wrong? Perhaps, but the neighbourhood wasn’t bothered. Men, women and nubile virgins were too busy dancing the Christmas spirit away, their adrenalin being rushed by intolerable and intoxicating levels of alcohol, marijuana and all kinds of mind-altering and liver-cooking whiskies and vodkas bootlegged from South Africa.

Elsewhere more than 400 kilometres away in the capital city, an old man with a funny-looking moustache laughed at his own jokes as he entertained his young family. “Thanks-but-no-beer-and-cigarettes-here-we-are-God-fearing-people” was beautifully calligraphed for all visitors to the palatial home to see. The visitors had to take note or risk raising the venom of the old fool who otherwise loved to present himself an altar boy – and this being Christmas – as Santa Claus himself. Only this old man never kept a beard; just that funny-looking moustache. But everybody knew this man was no Santa. Satan maybe, but certainly not Santa.

On the dinner table were all kinds of weird foodstuff never seen and never to be seen by the cursing alcoholic in the opening paragraph. Some of the food remained untouched while some looked like it had only been nibbled at by very spoilt kids. It was obvious the laughing old man and his family had just finished having a Christmas meal fit for a king. Fit for a cruel man, the poor man who loved scuds to a fault cursed bitterly as he walked aimlessly in the dark night, not really looking forward to returning home to four hungry children and an angry wife.

“I just want to die,” the alcoholic said. “I just want to live forever,” the old man with a funny-looking moustached mused as he watched his children sitting in front of a big television screen screaming excitedly as they competed for championship in the latest Playstation their mother had brought them from one of her many shopping trips in the Far East.

“Life is good,” the old man said rather loudly. “What did you say?” asked the wife. “Nothing, nothing,” he waved her off lovingly as he stroked her shoulder. “Senile old fool,” the wife said in the secrecy of her heart.

Meanwhile, the screaming semi-naked woman ran blindly in the dark with the night breeze caressing her bare breasts. A few meters away, she could see three silhouette figures approaching. This was a period of the year when many township souls became nocturnal and there was virtually no fear of being mugged. Festive mood they called it. Thus it was that parents gave schoolboys and girls permission to gyrate provocatively at the discotheque held at the local community hall for that one night only throughout the year.

The bare breasted woman ran right into young men who were coming from the community hall and who had gulped one too many and decided to call it a night. Soon, she was pleading for help, going and on that there was a killer after her. “Please take me to the police station.” “Yeah sure,” the drunken boys readily offered. “What good Samaritans on Christmas eve. This sure is a Christian holiday,” she wept silently, grateful as one of the young men took off his jacket offering to cover her. “Wait,” one of them said. “Let’s pass through my place. I can get her one of my sister’s blouses.” “Great,” they all agreed, including the female. No report was made to the police that night. The three spent the night emptying their lust on the poor woman.

Meanwhile far, far away, the old man with a funny-looking moustache closed himself in the bathroom. He took two blue pills and hastily swallowed them. Feeling like a stallion, he joined his young wife in bed. He never saw Christmas. His heart stopped while he was on top of his wife trying real hard to make her feel like a woman. When the cardiac attack set in, the wife had imagined the spasms to be an orgasm.

And thus it was that it became known as a Christmas to forget.

Fear of difference

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Monday, December 14th, 2009 by Susan Pietrzyk

I would like to make a few comments that connect to two excellent recent Kubatana blogs­the first by Amanda Atwood concerning Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the second by Catherine Makoni concerning the troublesome PSI research/adverts.

Both blogs effectively highlight worrying ideological agendas and human rights violating desires for control over peaceful citizens.  Moreover, both blogs increase our awareness of the negative consequences when political leaders, research projects, and TV ad executives allow fear of difference to direct the way they think and how they develop policies, design research, and disseminate information.  It is with pain in my heart that in the last few days I have been inundated with people spewing ideas predicated on fear of difference.  Just the other day I read a fear of difference article by William Lungisani Chigidi entitled Shona Taboos: The Language of Manufacturing Fears for Sustainable Development.

It is of course important to discuss taboos or what are also called avoidance rules so as to better understand some of what shapes the complex cultural, economic, health, political, judicial, and social issues and circumstances in Zimbabwe, and world over.  What shocked me and made my stomach turn is that Chigidi overtly advocates that Zimbabwean society ought to instill more fear and formally adopt more avoidance rules to ensure that citizens “appropriately” conform to a morally upright socializing process.  Chigidi writes:

For example, the avoidance rules can be employed to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  For instance, why can’t it be said that ‘If you have sex while you are still young you will suffer from chicken pox’;  ‘If you become intimate with an animal your private parts will disappear one day’; ‘If you kiss a boy/girl you will lose all your hair’; ‘If you hug a boy/girl you will be raped by a vagabond’; ‘If you become intimate with a relative you will die in your sleep’; ‘If you become intimate with another man/woman (homosexuality/lesbianism) you will be struck by lightning.’  Avoidance rules such as these, and expressed in descent Shona language of course, will invoke in the minds of the young frightening images that will scare them from improper behavior.  That could save lives.

I’m not sure I want to write a blog per se.  More I think I want to rant.  This article is one of the most unsettling things I have ever read.  How in the world can someone so overtly advocate instilling fear, in children no less?  Why in the world does someone think it makes sense to tell children flat out lies?  What would be wrong with thoughtfully engaging children, adolescents, and adults in dialogue to better understand and appreciate human diversity, while also unpacking what drives inequities and injustices in the world?  At least Chigidi’s aim is to save lives.  But, it is not fear nor fear of difference that are going to save lives.  Discussion and productively celebrating difference is what saves lives.

And finally, one last quibble about the article.  Simply to say that writing homosexuality/lesbianism is unnecessarily repetitive.  Albeit a pejorative term, homosexuality describes a sexual relationship between individuals of the same sex.  A homosexual relationship could be between men or between women.  Why use both homosexuality and lesbianism to reference the same thing?  The answer, in part, lies in the analysis that Catherine’s blog presents concerning troublesome representations of women.  In the case of unnecessarily using lesbianism when already having used homosexuality, we are looking at the opposite end of troublesome representations of women and their sexuality’s.  If women are not problematically cast, as Catherine writes, as highly sexed, morally depraved individuals, the other common casting follows the patriarchal worldview depicting women as sexually passive and meant only to serve men’s needs.  With this ill-conceived line of thinking then, the term homosexuality is perceived as unable to incorporate a female same-sex sexual relationship given that, in a patriarchal worldview, women (straight, lesbian, or bisexual) don’t choose to have sex.

So what’s 2010 got to do with it?

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Friday, December 11th, 2009 by Delta Ndou

My visit to Johannesburg recently brought back memories of my mother, oddly enough, watching the construction that was taking place – the longsuffering looks on the strained faces of drivers who have long resigned themselves to being daily inconvenienced by the activities taking place to spruce up the city before the world comes charging in.

I was reminded of similar days when the family was expecting some important guest and the whole house would be turned upside down and we would be exiled outside with strict orders to steer clear of mama and her broomstick.
I always resented the disruption such visits brought to our lives – there would be the shifting of bedrooms and suddenly I would find myself sleeping on the floor while the ‘dignitary’ enjoy the luxury of my single bed and the comfort of mama’s best sheets and bed linen.

I somehow got the distinct impression that the average South African is hard pressed not to grumble at the inconvenience that the 2010 is bringing as the powers that be pull all the stops to present a sparkling clean image when America, Europe and the rest of the world descends upon them.

And all the while the media keeps harping on about the great ‘opportunities’ that 2010 presents to South Africans as a way of placating them, no doubt – in much the same way my mother used to gain our cooperation to be on our best behaviour by reminding us that the visitors would mean a delectable menu of dishes would be served.

Of course she would neglect to inform us that we would have to settle for the mouth-watering aromas that would waft towards our rooms to which we were confined – out of sight – while the VIPs were served in the family living room and even now I don’t know which was worse – missing my favourite TV shows or having leftovers when I had been promised a scrumptious meal.
So it is with the majority of South Africans whose cooperation has been bought by cleverly worded campaigns, messages, logos and slogans assuring them that they would all have a piece of the 2010 action.

The sad truth however, is that for many South Africans, the World Cup will not translate to any meaningful change in their lives – it will not bring them running water, it will not substitute candles for the brilliance of florescent light, it will not put food on their tables, or clothe their children’s backs or even turn their shacks into concrete palaces.

Recently after interviewing women at the various markets in Johannesburg with the aim of writing a story on how enthusiastic, excited and hopeful they were about capitalizing on 2010 Tanzanian journalist, Angel Navuri met with tales of woe.

“Food vendors cannot take the food to the stadiums because they have been forbidden to go there. It is certain that beneficiaries will be the big hotels, tour operators, and those who already have money will make more money. And the small traders have been excluded from engaging in any economic activity that would have seen them making any significant gains through the 2010,” reported Navuri.

Is it always the case that in order to be hospitable one must, for a time anyway, place the welfare of strangers ahead of their own family, or country men? What is that thing they say about charity beginning at home?
As a child I struggled to reconcile this tendency of being pushed to the periphery whenever more ‘special’ people deigned to visit us with being loved or appreciated in the family.

I mean I seemed pretty dispensable back then and the whims of those visitors took precedence over my needs making me wonder if mama perhaps loved them more than she did me.

But those were childhood musings, as a woman I have grown to resent the hypocrisy that forces us to always ‘keep up appearances’ going so far as to disown, reject and hurt our own.

So whose 2010 is it anyway?

It’s certainly not the market trader’s because they have been told to steer clear of the stadiums (we wouldn’t want the visitors to see them because they’re too plain and might mar the exquisite stadium facilities) instead space will be created to accommodate the fancy restaurants with gourmet chefs and first class menus.

It won’t be the fruit or airtime vendor because they would make the stadiums look shabby and the visitors cannot be expected to put up with the sight of people walking up and down earning an honest living – they can get airtime at the hotels or their taxi drivers can ferry them to the nearest state of the art shopping mall where they will be spared the ugly sights of Johannesburg’s filth lined dark alleys.

School will be closed for the whole month and people will be expected to put their lives on hold while the powers that be pander to the wishes of the Western visitors whose arrival will be expected to leave Joburg awash with freshly minted pounds, dollars, euros and francs amongst other currencies.

And the so called job opportunities and job creation resulting from the 2010 preparations smack of my mother’s subterfuge exaggerating the benefits that would accrue to us if we put up with a ‘little’ discomfort to make room for our esteemed guests.

Asked about how excited (who wouldn’t be right?) the women traders were about all the money they stood to make from foreign clients in 2010; one of them identified only as ‘Mama Ice’ retorted: “This World Cup will come for only 28 days out of a whole year. We have already been told that we are not wanted at the stadiums by the municipality and we hear this FIFA of theirs has standards and we are not good enough for them so what has 2010 got to do with us?”

And they will not be the only ones finding themselves looking in from the outside while the World Cup passes them by as African journalists may very well find themselves playing second fiddle to foreign sports reporters who will be better equipped, better sponsored and probably given preferential treatment ahead of Africans who are after all ‘family’ and can make room for the ‘guests’ – but that’s a story for another day.