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Archive for July, 2010


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Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Bev Clark

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.
- Pericles

Standing on great shoulders

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Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Delta Ndou

The day I met Samia Nkrumah, I was awestruck – by her humility, her grace and the dignity with which she carried herself.

It was a moment I proudly splashed on my Facebook, and squeezed into the 120 characters of a tweet.

I was convinced at that moment that I was well on my way to greatness, for in some journeys – there has to be some turning point – and that was it for me.

Having been identified among some of Africa’s most extraordinary emerging women leaders; the enormity of it had not yet sunk in and I arrived in Accra for the 3 week fellowship training feeling considerably daunted.

From over 800 applicants from all over the continent and the African diaspora, I was picked in the final 25 and with this selection came the honour of being a MILEAD Fellow by the Moremi Initiative for women’s leadership and development in Africa.

I set foot on West African soil determined to make the most of the experience.

My arrival coincided with the opening ceremony for the fellowship and in attendance was none other than Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Ghana, Mrs Pavelyn Musaka, the South African ambassador to Ghana, Mrs Jessica Ndhlovu and the Nigerian ambassador to Ghana, Alhaji Issifu Baba Kamara.

And they treated us as equals and deferred to our opinions as if we were their peers – and it was refreshing to not be patronized but to be engaged with as a group of leaders who have what it takes to impact the world positively.

It was also humbling to note that the Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs, Ms Joyce Aryee took time from her parliamentary session to share some insights on what it takes to be a leader in Africa, more-so a woman leader.

“They will tell you it cannot be done, well I am here today to tell you that not only can it be done, it is has been done and it is still being done. You owe it to yourselves to never give up and never ever walk away from a fellow sister in need. In this journey to becoming the next generation of African women leaders, you will need to help, support, encourage and work with each other,” she said adding that she had been called names and insulted in the media during smear campaigns so she had learned to just be tough.

Since the leadership institute commenced, I have had the honour of visiting Ghana’s parliament which occasioned my encounter with Samia.

Then the opportunity to meet with Betty Mould-Iddrisu who is Ghana’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the first woman to ever hold these posts since Ghana’s independence in 1957.

“I will tell you one thing. You must work hard and you must never, never forget where you come from. Never forget. Never let yourself forget,” she stressed urging us to be humble even as we pursue our most lofty ambitions.

We were inspired.

Soon after this meeting, we were shuttled to the Accra Holiday Inn Hotel where we had the honour of spending an hour with Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, a member of the Council of Elders, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the founder of Realizing Rights.

She shared her experiences on working in Africa and some of the most pressing problems faced by the continent.

“If we can isolate one of the most pressing challenges in Africa, it would be the use of religion and tradition to oppress women. The efforts to realize gender equality and to elevate the status of women are significantly hampered by this,” said Mary Robinson.

It was an enlightening session, coming hot on the heels of a group outing that saw us visiting the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) headquarters where we were hosted by some of the most successful women in funding on the continent.

AWDF has over the past decade funded women’s organisations all over the continent and propelled the women’s movement by facilitating the necessary financial resources to ensure that organisations continue the all important work of elevating the status of African women. And I find myself increasingly recalling the sentiments of Bernard of Chartres who used to say that, “we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” For a great deal has been achieved by those women leaders who have gone ahead of us and with each generation the load becomes lighter but the complexity of the challenges we are up against remains.

May we be found worthy of the mantle of leadership when the day comes to pass on the torch?

Plight of the disabled needs attention in Zimbabwe

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Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Natasha Msonza

18 year old Grace

Grace Nezandoi from Mucheke village in Bikita is no ordinary eighteen year-old girl. She was born third in a family of five. Her two elder brothers aged 20 and 22 alternately change her underwear and sanitary wear even when she is menstruating. They do everything from bathing her to washing soiled underwear and blankets.

Grace has advanced mental retardation, cannot talk, moves with the aid of a wheelchair and has never seen the door of a school. What is devastating about her situation is, her two younger siblings aged 15 and 5 are also in a similar mental and physical predicament. Her parents both live but are hardly ever there. Her father is a soldier while her mother joined the rest of the bandwagon of Zimbabweans trying to make ends meet in South Africa.

Although the Nezandoi family is regularly visited and assisted by a voluntary care-giver, the three disabled siblings need more attention than what they are currently getting. However, Grace is the most affected. According to the care-giver escorting us on this assignment, it is in the best interest of Grace for her uterus to be removed so that she stops menstruating. Grace’s mother has strongly objected to the idea.

According to the Zimbabwean law, 18 is the legal age of majority and Grace should be in a position to make certain bodily decisions for herself. However, because of her multiple disabilities – her guardians are mandated by law to make any such decisions on her behalf.

The fact that her able-bodied brothers have to physically handle her sanitary issues must not only be devastating and traumatizing for them; it also means Grace is potentially exposed to abuse and has to endure the indignity of having her soiled underwear handled by men. It also emerged that Grace shares her bed with her 15-year-old disabled brother.

I had the privilege of meeting Grace’s unique family on a recent UNICEF sponsored initiative for journalists and other media professionals. I tagged along with the group of journalists assigned to finding new humanitarian angles to living with disability. As the scribes struggled to ask questions and clicked away on their cameras, Grace silently sat in a corner with a blank stare; grinning often and completely oblivious to what was taking place.

I interviewed 20 year-old Duet, the forlorn second eldest brother. The eldest seemed pretty annoyed at our presence and clearly did not want to talk. I could only imagine what this was doing to them, the stigma surrounding having three disabled siblings, relatives that distance themselves and girlfriends that bolt the moment they know about this family, fearing tainted genes.

Duet is a student at the Midlands State of University and has had to miss some of his lectures in order to take care of his three disabled siblings. He appears to have accepted his situation, but only God knows what goes on deep inside him. He voiced that his biggest wish is for his three siblings to be able to attend Chiratidzo – a nearby school for the disabled. He felt that it was important for them to mingle with other children in a similar state so that they feel they are not alone. However, the biggest challenge is transport, apart from the fact that the family will not be in a position to afford school fees.

In a country once referred to as “one of the most disability-accessible countries in Africa”, with supposedly greater availability of friendly disability legislation, free public transport and eligibility for government disability allowance – one tends to wonder what hope exists for a family such as Grace’s as systems continue to deteriorate in Zimbabwe. The country’s social welfare department is probably at its most impoverished and demoralised at this stage as it can hardly afford to offer any assistance to disabled and disadvantaged children. In the not so long ago past, the ministry has paid out monthly pittance per disabled child. Now, even that has not been forthcoming, and in the face of this – local minibus services are unwilling to take the time and trouble to load up children in wheelchairs.

While the constitutional outreach programme is underway, these are some of the issues that need serious attention. Children in these circumstances are scattered all over the country; a number of them hidden from society while many will never have a shot at normal life because of prohibitive socio – economic and policy factors.

For the Nezondoi family, some local NGOs have given aid in the form of food, wheel chairs and other non-food items. However, the care giver expressed disappointment in the fact that the aid has been piecemeal while the situation calls for more sustained assistance.

Back at the workshop venue, I listened to journalists debating the ethical considerations encountered in covering this unusual story. One colleague from a popular local tabloid thought there was a much bigger story and sought to explore the bizarreness of three children all born with multiple disabilities in a family where their older siblings are ‘normal’. Another colleague thought it would be interesting to investigate how this might be affecting the social lives of the brothers.

Personally, I was numbed by my inability to do anything that would make a difference in this family’s life. Most of all, I found myself battling over and over in my head, what I would do if I ever found myself in such a situation? Would stopping Grace from menstruating be tantamount to denying her her rights? Was it correct to assume that she would someday live a normal life? That one day someone will love her and want to marry her? Would she ever have her own children and be able to fend for them?

In the end we were all just journalists. Intrigued by the unusual and wanting to be the first to tell it. However, I always value such encounters, because they serve as another opportunity to remind me to be thankful each day for who I am and what I have as well as appreciate the little things we take for granted.

Strong in the broken places

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Monday, July 26th, 2010 by Delta Ndou

Strong in the broken places

I often wonder what ignites the passion for activism and what motivates individuals to care enough about the plight of others to place themselves on the firing line.

One of the things I discovered about the 24 young women that are taking part in the Moremi Initiative for women’s leadership and development in Africa (MILEAD) here in Ghana is that their passions derive from some of their most painful and deepest hurts.

In essence, they have risen against all odds to face their pasts and use their own pain to alleviate the suffering of others, prevent the possibility of similar pain being inflicted on others and wherever possible to use their experiences to reach out to others.

I once read a daily devotional that was titled, “strong in the broken places” and I never could really understand the meaning of that phrase.

But now I realize that there is strength to be derived from the lessons we learn when life’s tragedy breaks us down.

It all started with a seminar on child sexual abuse, gender violence and all the inherent complexities of these social ills and turned into a cathartic experience when one of the fellows shared a personal horror story.

Herlyn Uiras was diagnosed with HIV after she was raped by a truck driver who had offered her lift smuggled her into South Africa at the age of 16 and dumped her in Johannesburg miles from her country of origin – Namibia.

Herlyn’s story is heartrending, spine-chilling and life-transforming, proving the remarkable resilience of the human spirit and the triumph that comes with choosing to be a survivor and not victim of life’s endless tragedies.

“My friend and I wanted to see what Joburg was like and that truck driver said he could get use into SA. We were excited, we were 16, we were on an adventure. The moment he got us across the border he demanded sex, I refused but he went ahead anyway and when I saw that he would do it anyway, I begged him to use a condom. He wore one but it broke while he was at it. He didn’t stop. And I couldn’t stop him.”

The way Herlyn tells her story is striking in two ways; first she owns the consequences of her choices, specifically the choice to trust a stranger with her life.

She stayed 5 months in South Africa, surrendered herself to the police and was given passage back to her country.

Today Herlyn is 26, working with AIDS organisations to sensitize young children about the disease and is engaged in projects to discourage human smuggling and warn people about the dangers of human trafficking.

Prior to the earth-shattering revelations she made about what she went through, I had already created a profile of her in my mind, as I did with every other young woman I had met there.

I had profiled her as one of the fun-loving, side-splittingly hilarious women I have ever come across.

One would never guess at the sound of her infectious laughter that her life had been touched by such trauma and tragedy – though it wasn’t easy, Herlyn says she got to the point where she made peace with what had transpired – forgiven herself and even managed to somehow forgive the man who had raped and infected her.

As she told her story, she was so composed and we all listened disbelieving because although she spared us the details, most of us could still feel our skins crawl and imagine how she must have felt.

Then somewhere along the narration something just broke in her – she cried and we cried. Cried for that 16 year old girl who didn’t know any better and cried for the woman standing before us, who ten years later re-lives the nightmare to help others and to warn others by sharing her life story across the continent.

I have no way of knowing who’s life may be helped or saved by sharing Herlyn’s story with readers who follow Kubatana’s blogs, but there is no doubt in my mind that her story will help someone, somewhere to either avoid what befell her or choose to overcome whatever pain was inflicted on them.

Having received a fully-packed programme scheduled with back to back lectures and activities lined up for us, I went to Ghana expecting to be taught but when I got here – I found myself learning. Learning the meaning of what it means to be strong, strong even in the broken places.

Made in Zimbabwe with Mediocrity

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Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Bev Clark

Chief K. Masimba Biriwasha suggests that “Zimbabweans need to commit to high levels of excellence in all spheres of their lives as part of the rebranding process” . . . read more

When a friend suggested that I should go and check out the home furniture industry located in the teeming high density suburb of Glen View 3, approximately eight kilometers out of the city centre, little did I know I was in for a quick lesson on Zimbabwean mediocrity at its most basic level. First things first: I firmly support local entrepreneurship but only if it adheres to high levels of excellence at every step of execution. Suffice to state that my story began after I complained that the prices of furniture in the city centre were simply too exorbitant for the quality of the items on offer.

My friend told me that many of the furniture items being showcased in the city shops were actually originating from Glen View 3. I immediately became curious to check out this goldmine of furniture. So, I jumped on a Kombi at Market Square and headed out to Glen View 3 keen to strike a furniture deal that would not damage my pocket yet beautify my apartment.

Because I wasn’t sure about the location of the place, I constantly reminded the Kombi’s conductor that I wanted to drop off at the furniture joint. The complex, he retorted, to my amazement. Complex is actually what the furniture joint is called by the locals, I discovered later. In recent years, the place where the furniture is being made has grown so much to deserve being referred to as a complex.

Granted, it is a home industry which is providing employment for hundreds of people that may otherwise be out of jobs in today’s precarious economic environment. I could only premise that many of the people that are working at the complex could otherwise be criminals or beer drinking and dagga smoking ghetto thugs. So it is great that such an alternative exists.

The first thing that greeted me when I arrived at the so-called complex was dust. There were dirty plastics strewn all over, and particles of dust swirled in the air. Blades of grass and plants were covered in dust. My concern with the dust was quickly swept away when I looked around and saw magnificent furniture items on display on dusty ground.

There were quite a number of stands, each guarded by salespeople who as was to be expected hassled and harassed me to buy some of their wares. The furniture items looked exactly as what I had seen in the furniture shops in the city. In spite of the bits of dust that constantly wafted into my nostrils, I decided to purchase a bed and a set of sofas.

After the transaction, the salesman commandeered me to a workshop area as he ran around to make transport arrangements at my request. And then there it hit me. In front of me, I saw one young man working on the framework of a sofa. He punched nails mercilessly into the wood. I saw him picking rusty nails and just punching them into the wood as if he was demon-possessed or as if the wood had cursed his mother. After a while, he turned to me sweating profusely and requested my opinion on whether the frame of the sofa was proportional. Not quite sure how to respond, I made no comment, and the next thing, I saw him pick up a piece of wood from the ground and attach it to the frame with a bent nail.

After witnessing this ordeal, I left the complex quite disappointed at the level of workmanship. I wasn’t surprised when the bed I bought broke three weeks later. The stuffing in the sofa was so hard and crooked that my wife and me had to furiously apologize to our visitors to take care when sitting on them. Because I had settled for mediocrity I was going to pay for it. And as the saying goes, cheap is indeed expensive. I felt cheated by my support to my own countrymen’s entrepreneurial capabilities that I regretted having gone to the complex in the first place. After much reflection, I realized that while the spirit of Glen View furniture complex is quite entrepreneurial, the problem is that it is tainted with mediocrity.

As I see it, mediocrity is indeed the bane of Zimbabwe’s progress and development. It’s so apparent in everything we do, the idea of cutting corners, so to speak. The end result is always shoddy, not up to standard products. From our music to our politics, mediocrity always rears its ugly head. Unless we shake off this deep seated mediocrity, we will continue to speak big of ourselves and have little to show for it, at least at a global level. Zimbabweans need to commit to high levels of excellence in all spheres of their lives as part of the rebranding process.

So, go ahead, call me a salad

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Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Fungai Machirori

On a recent visit to my grandmother’s rural home, I remarked to my uncle how sad it is that when I have children of my own, all of their grandparents will be city-dwelling creatures who won’t boast scenic views of misted mountain ranges, free-roaming cattle and grass-thatched rondawels.

“Ah, but you can’t be sure of that yet,” he quipped. “You could get married to a man whose parents live in the rural areas and who loves to go and see them often.”

I am not too sure whether the grimace I felt growing within, after that statement was made, actually seeped through my flesh and crept all the way up to my face. Marry a man whose parents live where and who loves to do what?!

Now, I know those types well – the urban dwellers whose lungs can’t take the smell of diesel and industrialisation for any protracted amount of time, and who must therefore drive off to the ‘roots’ (that’s Zimbabwean slang for one’s rural home) at any opportunity. Public holidays, Christmas, Easter, annual leave – name the calendar dates and these men are on their merry way.

I have absolutely no problem with this whatsoever. Showing love and appreciation for where you come from is a sign of humility and respect. So bravo to all of those who have embraced their heritage.

But please don’t expect me to be the first to be kitted out in faithful pursuit at the suggestion of each and every road trip to see my in-laws and their string of relatives.

Let’s go through the reasons why.

It isn’t just rural folk who want to see what mettle a mroora (daughter-in-law) is made of. But they make the greatest demands on you to find out whether you really were worth all those cows given away as your bride price.

They want to know if you can cook, clean and do every other wifely task they know of from their own mental handbooks.

And note, cooking here is not for some previously planned dinner party of eight guests who all get place names. In this instance, it’s more like cooking for the whole village – aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, brothers of aunts of great uncles and any other relation you can think of!

Oh, and I neglect to mention that this is cooking by fire.

In a drum.

With a big old log for you to stir the pap around with as it gurgles and threatens to erupt all over your face.

I laugh at the thought of my even attempting such feats of heroism.

Ah, and then there’s the small matter of plucking feathers from newly deceased chickens which, in their final moments, you watched coursing about the yard headless and bloody.

I have to pass on that one too because I have real issues with cooking or eating something that I have seen living.

Call me crazy, but I grow attached to livestock. I watch and learn their different characters and even give them names and nationalities. In fact, in just this last visit to my grandmother I reincarnated one of her hens as a moody painter called Pierrick cocking his head to and fro (in the previous life the hen was male!) and fixing his eyes on angular shapes and edgy colours.

So don’t think for one moment that I could ever partake of the cooking and eating of Pierrick and others of his kith and kin.

Fetching water from a well kilometres away and then balancing a full bucket over my head? And actually walking with it?

Pass again.

But my personal favourite is getting all of this done before the first cock crows and with the whispers behind my aching back about when exactly it is that I will show my fertility by falling pregnant.

Did I just chuckle out loud? I am not so sure because no one else is in the room.

The chuckle, whether audible or otherwise, is induced by the fact that I am involved in a well-documented unshakeable romance with my pillows. So much so is sleep the glory of my life that I have since forfeited the spectacle of picturesque sunrises for it.

I will forfeit a whole lot more, even at the risk of being called a salad. In Zimbabwe, people who are considered to be ‘raw’ in a cultural sense, are derisively referred to as salads – no particular type of salad, just anything that’s made up of raw ingredients.

Oh, and who really understands the idea of getting married and enjoying your spouse’s company for a few years before birthing a brood of noisy rugrats? Just you wait more than a year and listen as everyone speculates that you are barren and that you need that special healing that the pastor who lives on a distant mountain top gives.

I am in no way making light of rural life. Rural communities have their own systems, proud rituals and traditions. And these are what keep them functional.

But I am at an age where I can be honest with myself.

I will never be a size 10. I will not be a fashion designer when I grow up. And I will not be the typical traditional wife.

My way of life is a fusion of things – an acculturation of different ways and beliefs about how I feel that I can most benefit the various structures within society, including family.

I am not a domestic goddess. I can be competent at house work, but nothing more. And whoever I marry, if I marry, has to understand that.

So no eyes gawking at me and vetting my competencies, thank you! The rustic life wasn’t made for some.

And for this narration of my reservations, call me a salad if you want. In fact, call me a Waldorf salad. At least I can munch away at bits of apples and nuts while you chew over my audacity.

Bon appetite!