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Archive for March, 2010

White-collar criminals in Zimbabwe’s parliament and government

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Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa

I have heard rumours of Members of Parliament who visit their constituencies only to campaign during elections. They are never seen, or heard of again. These are the same parliamentarians who last year refused to take vehicles from local company Willowvale Motor Industries – which could have used the boost in sales – and instead opted to import vehicles from various sources; no doubt duty free. This little exercise carried out in the name of ‘allowing our MPs to fulfil their duties’- one of which I presume is regularly visiting the people they represent – cost the taxpayer US6million.

At present 80% of our population is rural earning less than US$100 per month, well below the poverty datum line. It is this 80% of our population that was used to justify buying ‘all terrain’ vehicles for MPs. Meanwhile, the International Red Cross estimates that approximately a third of Zimbabwe’s population is in need of food aid.

With the Constitutional hullabaloo that is engulfing the nation our honourable parliamentarians are carrying out consultations with the people. Both Houses with a combined membership of 276 have adjourned to do their civic duty until mid June. Parliamentarians are being paid US$300 per day in addition to their regular government salaries and privileges.

Lets say that these consultations began after Easter. And let’s be generous and give our parliamentarians the weekends off. That would mean that they should be in consultations with us, ‘the people’, for approximately fifty-four days.

Now multiply 276 honourable members of parliament by 54 days living on 300 dollars a day . . .

Call me crazy, but that seems to be a hefty price to pay for the privilege of having my Member of Parliament give me what I hope will be a ‘non partisan’ explanation of constitutional issues. Even if taxpayers aren’t the ones to foot the bill for the consultations, surely the parliamentarians themselves should question their right to demand so much money. But I suppose that would suggest that our politicians are actually in politics to make a tangible change in Zimbabweans lives. Plainly speaking, they’re in politics because politics in Zimbabwe is a business. It has nothing to do with the electorate. Having an electorate simply legitimises the presence of white-collar criminals in parliament and government.

No place for intolerance – Tsvangirai

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Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by Amanda Atwood

In an encouraging move, Prime Minister Tsvangirai used his weekly newsletter column to speak out on tolerance of difference, and effectively responded to the anti-homosexual remarks attributed to him in The Herald recently. Thank you Tsvangirai for clarifying your position on tolerance of difference. Does this mean we can expect to see sexual orientation included with race, gender, tribe, culture, and political affiliation in the Constitution as areas of prejudice which Zimbabwe will not condone?

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

There can be no place in the new Zimbabwe for hate speech or the persecution of any sector of our population based on race, gender, tribe, culture, sexual orientation or political affiliation. All of us are entitled to our own opinions on certain values and beliefs, but in order to move our nation forward and achieve national reconciliation and healing, we have to uphold and foster the fundamental principle of tolerance, including tolerance of people that have chosen to live, believe and vote differently from ourselves. For too long, many of you, my fellow Zimbabweans, have not had the freedom of choice. Our new constitution shall be the cornerstone of a new society that embraces this particular freedom of choice and tolerance of both majority and minority views.

Clouding the issue

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Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Amanda Atwood

Following on from last week’s controversy, a Herald headline today reads: Tsvangirai flip-flops on gay rights.

One gets the impression some Herald editor was appalled at how “positive” last week’s article would have been for Tsvangirai in the eyes of many. I can almost hear the discussion in the newsroom – How dare you write something that makes Tsvangirai look anti-gay? Do you know how much popularity he’s going to gain for that? How much support that will win him? Quick, write something that makes him look pro-gay and tarnish his name again!

The article is venomous and unconstructive, but in the absence of any official statement from the MDC on this issue, is it any wonder that The Herald is taking the opportunity to further muddy the waters.

The content of The Herald article is too petty and preposterous to even engage with. But the point is that, of course, the MDC isn’t, and could never be swayed by a few “wealthy gays.” Who one does hope the MDC can be influenced by, however, are the variety of Zimbabwean individuals and organisations who agree that human rights are indivisible, who value tolerance and diversity, and who are appalled that the MDC would be willing to author a Constitution which discriminates against a minority.

Whose fruit is it anyway?

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Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Fungai Machirori

Growing up, an interesting predicament always befell my family. We lived next door to a family, highly prolific in gardening; and to show for their obvious passion, they had a yard abundant in flowers in kaleidoscope bloom, as well as all kinds of fruit and vegetable that could whet every visitor and passer by’s appetite, guaranteed.

One of their most productive exploits was the tall mango tree that grew in the backyard. Every year, the family was assured a harvest of juicy red-yellow fruit from it, heralding the arrival of summer.

And this is where the predicament came in.

Because the tree literally hunched over the low Durawall that separated our properties, a fair share of the harvest often fell into our yard.

Now it’s not that our neighbours didn’t try to avoid this happening. Often, I could spot the gardener on a stepladder doing his damndest to fish the fruit hanging in our territory with some form of hook or walking cane. But inevitably, a few mangoes were always missed and when their time came, they would fall daintily onto our patch of the world.

Each time that this happened, we were never sure what to do.

Should we get a bowl and gather that sweet juicy windfall, or return it to its ‘owner’?

Who was the owner anyway – the person who’d planted and nurtured the tree, or the one who benefited from its yield?

That is a scenario we can ponder for several minutes, hours even.

And the only reason I use it is because it perfectly mirrors a question posed by a few fellow Zimbabweans as we recently tried to rationalise the sad state of affairs in our nation.

We are all new ‘Diasporans’ – that term used to define Zimbabweans living and working out of the motherland – and were pondering the irony of our situation.

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, completely educated in-country, we are all now externalising the collective wealth of our knowledge to live and work in South Africa.

I believe that this is the saddest of all fates of the political and economic meltdown of our nation. We can bemoan the fact that all of our valuable natural resources, like gold and platinum and granite are being externalised to ‘friends’ in the East. But nothing is as precious to a nation as its pool of skilled persons.

Nothing shows more evidence of a robust social system (that includes positive socialisation at familial and educational level) than a capable, committed and diversified workforce.

And to prove the quality of Zimbabwe’s workforce, let me offer an example. Many of the young professionals Zimbabwe has recently produced have been trained under a plethora of trying circumstances which include a crippled economy that has led to endless academic strikes (by university and college lecturers, and teachers alike) and therefore limited learning; as well as hardships among scholars trying to raise fees for their education

The fact that even with all these factors working horrendously against them, Zimbabweans can compete with professionals trained at far more renowned institutions than the few semi-reputable (at least for now) institutions that the nation has is a testament to the great resource that is Zimbabwe’s people.

But boasting aside, there is a predicament in this scenario; much like the one I set out at the beginning of this piece.

Just like the neighbour who receives a windfall from a tree that he hasn’t planted, so do foreign nations who harvest the fruit of the Zimbabwean crop. This isn’t to say that this is a bad thing, but with the current state of socio-economic affairs in Zimbabwe, it is an unfortunate thing.

Zimbabwe’s soils are fertile for nurturing capable intellectuals and professionals – but not for retaining them. Instead, they are often forced to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

So the question remains, the question that we few Zimbabweans found ourselves asking ourselves that day.

Who owns our output – the nation that has nurtured us, or the one that benefits from our yield? Who ought we plead allegiance to?

And as with the mango tree and its fruit, this is a scenario we can ponder for several minutes, hours even.

Exhibit of persistence

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Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by Amanda Atwood


This is just one of the powerful photos from the recent ZimRights photo exhibition, Reflections. Despite Zimbabwe’s inclusive government, and claims of “progress” in opening up Zimbabwe’s democratic space, this exhibition has faced numerous challenges. Read and see more here.

Unhu / Ubuntu-ism 101

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Monday, March 29th, 2010 by Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa

Unhu or ubuntu has become popular even informing the philosophy and values behind a free open source operating system. Sadly there are very few people who live this philosophy on a daily basis.

In a recent interview with Professor Mandivamba Rukuni. He described what motivated him to write his book Being Afrikan:

I realised, after having been highly educated and being in the development field, that not much of what I’ve achieved has really made a difference to the people that I serve. Most of the people in my extended family are still poor. I realised that it was a false progress, I’m a professor, but it’s only good for me. I realised that there’s no developed or advanced society in the world that achieved that status by abandoning their history, abandoning their culture and then borrowing somebody else’s as a basis for development.

He went to say that African culture is built on three pillars, the first of which is Ubuntu, or in Shona Unhu.

The philosophy of unhu or ubuntu is described in Shona by the saying munhu munhu nevanhu; or in Zulu umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. The literal English translation is ‘A person is a person with other people’ or ‘I am because we are’.

In his book Hunhuism or Ubuntuism, co-authored with his wife Dr Tommie Marie Samkange, Zimbabwean historian and author Stanlake J.W. Samkange, highlighted the three maxims of unhu / ubuntu, namely:

1.    To be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and establishing respectful human relations with them.
2.    If and when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life
3.    The king owed his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him

Archbishop Desmond Tutu described unhu or ubuntu as:

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.