Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Archive for May, 2010

Arrest and harassment of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) staff

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Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Amanda Atwood

On Friday 21 May, members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, led by Chief Superintendent Peter Magwenzi and Detective Inspector Chibvuma, appeared at the Harare offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) with a warrant to search for drugs and pornography. They confiscated office equipment and materials from the GALZ resource center, and arrested two GALZ staff members, Ellen Chadehama and Ignatious Muhambi, alleging that they were in possession of “indecent material.”

On Monday 24 May, when the two were to have appeared in court, the police added additional charges of “undermining the presidency,” based on a plaque they had found hung up at the GALZ offices from former San Francisco Mayor Willie Lewis Brown Jr, in which the African-American denounces President Robert Mugabe’s homophobia.

On Tuesday 25 May, the High Court refused to entertain an urgent application demanding the release of the two GALZ staff members.

On Wednesday 26 May around 6am, police raided the home of GALZ director Chesterfield Samba. Samba was in South Africa for scheduled meetings, but his brother’s wife and young son were at home. Police confiscated Samba’s birth certificate, passport, magazines, business cards and other materials.

The arrested pair were to appear in court the afternoon of Wednesday 26 May. However, by the time the arrived at court it was too late for their case to be heard. They are currently expected to appear in court at 8:30am on Thursday 27 May. The charges of “undermining the presidency” have been dropped, and the pair will only face charges of being in possession of “indecent material.”

The arrests have been condemned by a variety of Zimbabwean organisations including Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Sexual Rights Centre, National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and Kubatana.net.

Zimbabwe is currently undergoing a process to draft a new Constitution. Some Zimbabweans have been advocating for a clause in the new Constitution’s Bill of Rights that protect sexual orientation from discrimination in the ways that gender, race and religion are protected. Many Zimbabweans are opposed to such a measure. The Sunday Mail of 23 May quotes Zanu PF Member of Parliament and co-chair of the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (COPAC) as saying that the Constitutional outreach process would not involve any discussion of homosexuality.

In recent months, other individuals and organisations, including lawyer Jonathan Samkange, Nhimbe Trust, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (ZINASU), have been harassed by Zimbabwe’s inclusive government for a variety of reasons.

It is useful at this time to remember recent remarks by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity – or because of their sexual orientation. In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied them fundamental human rights. We knew this was wrong. Thankfully, the world supported us in our struggle for freedom and dignity. It is time to stand up for another wrong. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God’s family. Show me where Christ said “Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones.” Gay people, too, are made in my God’s image. I would never worship a homophobic God.

Priscilla Misihairabwi’s defeat is a defeat for all women

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Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Fungisai Sithole

I attended Minister Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga’s press conference yesterday the 17th of May 2010 at Meikles Hotel where she announced that she was relinquishing all her claims to her late husband Christopher Mushonga’s estate. As she went through her statement outlining the challenges she had endured since the death of her husband in August last year, I could see a tormented face, a face filled with bitterness, anger and frustration.  Tears filled my eyes as in front of me stood a defeated woman who was using the little strength left in her to announce her defeat.  The most confusing part was the involvement of the CIOs and the police in an issue that was already in the civil courts. Priscilla’s relatives were being harassed and intimidated and all this was meant to break her spirit not only to fight for her husband’s estate but also her political spirit.

The painful part is that I have known Priscilla Misihairabwi as a fighter and a woman liberator and for her to end up throwing in the towel on an issue I believed she had every right to contest, I got scared, scared for myself and all the other women that are in marriages and those that are widows.

After the press conference people stood in groups discussing Minister Mushonga’s announcement. People held mixed views on this because some felt Priscilla had disappointed and broke the spirits of all the people who believe in women’s liberation and some felt that she was only human and could only take so much. To me what Priscilla did might be a disappointment to many but her action and decision is a sign and a depiction of the reality in Zimbabwe. Our society is still very patriarchal and continues to pull down and destroy women who attempt to liberate themselves. All those women who attempt to fight for their survival are labelled as prostitutes, witches and gold diggers. Clearly, Zimbabweans have not fully addressed the issue of supporting women and the civic society groups have not clearly supported Priscillah yet they claim to support disadvantaged women and to me she is one woman who has been disappointed.

Priscilla’s defeat is defeat for all of us. I therefore urge women to rise up in support of her so that she at least gets a decent home to live in.

Question Zimbabwe’s police

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Thursday, May 20th, 2010 by Bev Clark

Often in Zimbabwe, its difficult to separate fact from fiction; this place can be one big rumour mill. However a woman I work with had a horrible experience last night. Because of the lack of rule of law together with a very unprofessional police force, we’re all left shaking our heads as to What To Do. We thought about getting hold of the MDC seeing as they have Mutsekwa as co-minister in Home Affairs but we’re pretty cynical about whether he’ll actually do anything (just look at the circus called the Beitbridge Border post). Still, we’ll give it a bash.

So, here’s a first hand account of her treatment at the hands of the Zimbabwe Republic Police:

I had a nasty incident with the cops last night, when I was driving home from dinner on my own.  10 officers pulled me over, just outside Borrowdale School, and 2 of them threatened me with a gun, saying I hadn’t listened to the order to pull over, despite the fact that I stopped a few meters away from where they flagged me down.  They said that they were going to take me to jail, and that I had a weapon (which was actually the car fire estinguisher).  I managed to remain cool, calm and very polite throughout; and they finally let me go after about 30 minutes of aggressive intimidation and harassment from their side.  I hear that similar incidents have happened to others recently; and recommend not to go that route on your own at night.

Arrest one, imprison all in Zimbabwe

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Thursday, May 20th, 2010 by Dydimus Zengenene

One society that we often forget and rarely think of, mainly because, by its very nature it is isolated from our day-to-day association and interaction, is the prison. The conditions in prisons are therefore usually understated unless being narrated by a prisoner.

Recently I met a lady in her fifties carrying a basket of food and a lunch box. She hesitantly approached me and asked, “Son, do you know how I can get to the remand prison near Newlands?”

“Oh yes mama let me show you”, I answered.

She must have realized that I was a bit interested in talking further with her, because she waited a moment longer after I had shown her directions. This was a chance I could not let go. I asked why she was going to the prison at that time of the day carrying such luggage as food. Her face suddenly changed, she turned and spoke slowly with gasps of sighs in between her words. I could see tiny drips of tears making their way along the wrinkles around her eyes. To avoid direct eye contact, she looked down and started to narrate the story of her son who was arrested and sentenced to three months in prison. She said her son was at Matapi in Mbare, and when she got there with the food this morning she heard that he was taken to the Remand Prison. Where he will be taken to after Remand, she is not sure but what she is sure of is that he was sentenced to serve three months and that she was supposed to look for his food daily for that long. She was not sure if she could sustain the three months of moving about every morning, where would she get the money for transport let alone the food itself? It seems the son was the breadwinner of the family and the old lady had to pay for his sins; the whole family behind, so to speak.

The food supply in prisons is reprehensible; families are struggling to feed their imprisoned. A one-year sentence means the family suffers for a year as well. That led me to ask a policeman what happens to those whose relatives are far from the prisons or those who cannot afford to bring food. He chose to use the phrase “survival of the fittest” and didn’t divulge much detail. He was only at liberty to disclose that cigarettes are in demand in prisons. If one has a pack of cigarettes, then he is assured of food as he can trade it with food with those whose relatives can supply it daily.

Zimbabwean prisoners might never face a worse hell than the present. The punishment ripples out to innocent family members who have to supply for food on daily basis. If one member is arrested, practically every family member is in prison. What a horrible state.

Burqa fashion

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Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 by Bev Clark

Here’s a really interesting article from Radio France Internationale on the subject of burqas:

Burqa fashion show by Majida Khattari

By Zeenat Hansrod

Morrocan artist Majida Khattari has been working for some time on the theme of the veil worn by some Muslim women. Khattari uses her artistic perspective to take a refreshing, provocative look at why this piece of cloth fuels so much passion in this country.

Majida Khattari doesn’t look like a feminist who’ll readily burn her bra. Born and raised in Morocco, but currently living in France, she is petite, with large, deep, black eyes and soft-spoken. And she loves to laugh. She, Majida, defies stereotypes. So does her work.

Her work is interesting not only because it is sometimes a political statement but also accomplished by a consummate artist, liberated from the history of art and free to play with it.

The Martine and Thibault de la Châtre art gallery  is showing a selection of her photographs and an installation called The Houris until 19 June.

One of the photographs at the gallery revolves around the issue of the burqa. On 19 May, a bill calling for a ban of the burka in public places will be reviewed by the French Council of Ministers. The burka has been at the centre of much-heated debate here in France.

The burka refers to the veil worn from head to toe by some Muslim women and which completely hides their body.

As an artist, Khattari wonders about the world around her and wants to make people think through an artistic process. “Art is provocation. And we need provocation to move forward. I’m trying to highlight the ambiguity and the complexity of the situation,” she says.

Her capacity to lay bare ambiguity is one of the reason gallery owner Thibault de la Châtre is currently showing Khattari’s work. He also values her ability to fuse her own Moroccan cultural heritage with a thorough knowledge of Western art.

That’s apparent in the collection of photographs inspired by the Orientalists. De la Châtre insists that Khattari was not selected because of the prevailing acrimonious socio-political context in France around the burqa. One of the photographs at the gallery, Partage (Sharing), shows two women facing each other, one naked and one veiled.

For de la Châtre, Partage is not provocative: “In art you can do everything. Picasso used to make the head on the bottom and the bottom on the head. Everybody was shocked to see the human body destroyed like that. But he showed what was going to happen. [And as for Khattari], she sees what is going to happen tomorrow. So, you know naked people and veiled people are going to live together, they must, they have no choice.”

Khattari’s most impressive work on the theme of the veil was a fashion show last April at the Cité Internationale couched as performance art. She says it is her fourth and most radical show. Heavily veiled women and men walked down the catwalk while nude white women wearing large turbans and high heels walked up on the opposite side. This meant that the two models faced each other at one point.

The pace was slow, the nude models all looked alike, and the all-body veils were like sculptures, each one different from the other. One model would discard the layers of veils as if peeling off its skin, while another veiled model moved in an erratic pace, struggling to get out of the garment.

“These are extreme situations. I voluntarily worked on those two extreme images to extract the issue of the burqa and that of captivity outside the religious realm,” says Khattari. “Because women are not subdued because of religion only. We also have to comply and conform to aesthetic norms to look young and beautiful, always,” she added.

Art critic Pascale Le Thorel has followed the work of  Khattari for the last 10 years. She says the originality of Khattari’s work around the veil resides in her ability to link performance art and body art.

“It’s important to say that Majida is the first one to approach this issue. She has really broadened the issue within the context of the study of the body itself, on nudity, obviously on women but not only as she’s used men in her shows. She’s very much part of this ongoing discourse which goes on between one artist to another, which is a very good definition of what history of art is itself,” says Le Thorel.

Khattari doesn’t understand why, in France, laws must be passed to decide how people should be dressed. “It’s absurd to create laws to tell us that veils need to be banned in public places. After all, we are in France because it protects our freedom.”

“It’s as if you’re saying that women not capable of making their own decisions and you’ll decide for them. Or that they must have chosen to wear the veil because they are completely dominated, that there could be no other reason for such a choice. I’m sorry, there are many women who wear the veil out of their own free will,” says Khattari.

One would imagine, now that fatwas are so readily thrown at artists, that Khattari may have been threatened by radical groups. But that’s not the case. The only objection came a few years ago from a French women’s rights group, Ni putes ni soumises, who thought she had an agenda.

As far as Khattari is concerned, all the commotion around the burka goes beyond that piece of cloth. It’s far more complex and she successfully brings the audience to look at her interpretation.

Why don’t women deliver mail?

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Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 by Zanele Manhenga

Did you know that there aren’t any post women in Zimbabwe? I know that does not sound right but I was talking to a manager of a post office and she said that when they advertise for postal delivery people women do not come up to bring their applications. I was at least relieved when I spoke to a lady manager. Why is that women are not coming up for postman jobs. Is it because they are afraid of the bicycle or the long distances you need to cycle delivering mail. Or is it that the postman title is a way to make women scared of trying out for the job?