Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Archive for November, 2010

Innovative vendors in Zimbabwe

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Monday, November 29th, 2010 by Lenard Kamwendo

The vendor wrapping sheet is distributed monthly by Kubatana in order to promote people who are in the fruit and vegetable vending business and also to promote a culture of reading and information sharing. With a high rate of unemployment especially in Harare some people have turned to fruit and vegetable vending as a means of self-sustenance. A few years ago vending was associated with mostly women because men preferred to work in industry but with the economic crunch that Zimbabwe has been experiencing, men are now also vending.

When I was distributing the vendor wrapper in Greencroft recently, I was made to realize that you have to be innovative and crafty if you want to survive in the vending business in Zimbabwe. Since vegetable vendors trade in small currency and coins, trading has not been easy due to shortage of coins for change. In order to avert this problem vendors in Greencroft have become innovative by introducing a new system to make trading easy. With stiff competition from OK and Spar supermarkets, vendors at a vegetable market in Greencroft have decided to claim a share of the customers through innovative means. Just like any shop in Zimbabwe, supermarkets in Greencroft issue credit notes as change to customers when they run out of coins. These credit notes are then used to buy any product from vegetable vendors trading at a market in Greencroft. When I talked to one of the vendors, she said they started accepting credit notes brought by customers because they have been having problems of coins to give as change and also it’s a way of encouraging customers to buy from them. She went on to explain how the system works, highlighting that when they have collected a certain number of credit notes the vendors then go to the supermarkets where the credit notes were issued from and buy groceries or redeem them and get cash. The vendors said this system only works if the credit notes are from OK or Spar supermarkets in Greencroft.

Most vendors have been complaining about the shortage of coins and some have resorted to selling their products in bulk and round off the amounts to fifty cents or one dollar, popularly known as “dollar for two” or “dollar for ten”.

Stare and look closely: activism is everywhere

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Monday, November 29th, 2010 by Bev Clark

Liz, a participant on Kubatana’s recent workshop on creative organising had this to say:

My mind today was put to a tactful journey as I was give the opportunity to visualise the tactics of information activism. An ordinary day surely does not pass without one’s mind being put to task, but mine today was used differently! Listening to how various organisations the world over have and are making use of technology to turn information into action (Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe being included), had me inspired as I was writing the tactics down. Nothing was so new or out of this world, but what in some aspect made it new  was the way the organisations used them to get their objectives accomplished.

Tactic number 7 really challenged me. ‘Use Complex Data’, by Access Info helps to advance the right to know by publishing budgetary information on their website for the public to access. I asked myself why such an informative website does not exist in my country?? Come to think of it, parastatals are required to issue their expenditure accounts freely to the public….but reality check! This is not happening in Zimbabwe. The protocol and bureaucracy which one has to go through to access this kind of information will make you so tired before you even complete the process…guess its a means of never trying to expose corruption.

The rapid changes in technology surely brings about a greater and dynamic opportunity for information sharing thereby contributing to the success of CSOs’s advocacy. But just as we embrace these technologies some countries are presented with new methods of suppression, censorship and breaches of privacy. For example in Tunisia, You Tube was banned. In Zimbabwe the registration of cellphone lines is being hotly debated.

My experience therefore makes my eyes stare and look closely at a direction I used to just glance at, rekindle some dreams I had shelved under my pillow, open my mouth to say a word or two on issues I’ve been keeping quiet about.

Creative Resistance

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

In an effort to help Zimbabwean activists become more inspired and creative in their work Kubatana.net organised a morning of screenings and discussions of 10 Tactics for Turning Information into Action and Favela Rising.

We published an invitation to apply to attend the workshop in our email newsletter and asked respondents to write a short letter of motivation detailing what they hoped to get out of the session.

We picked a small group of activists (ten people) from the letters we received, as we felt this would give everyone involved an opportunity to participate.

The morning began with a screening of 10 Tactics. We encouraged the activists to take notes during the film for discussion at the end. Many of the activists related that they were using some of the tactics already, as in the case of the Research and Advocacy Unit which produced a documentary, Hear Us/Tinzweiwo, telling the stories of women who experienced violence and rape during the 2008 elections

Major issues that were raised in using the 10 Tactics included verifying information, self-censorship in reporting information and how to mobilise people.

Many of the 10 Tactics require information from communities to organisations, and there was concern about how the information being used could be verified, and how this could be done in a timely manner. The group concluded that if there was coherence regarding a certain piece of information then it would most likely be true.

With regard to self-censorship, the group discussed how this had taken root within Zimbabwe and was affecting civil society, with some organisations refusing to publish what they considered sensitive or inflammatory information.

The first tactic, which is to mobilise people around a certain issue, was felt by the group to be at the heart of the difficulties civil organisations in Zimbabwe are facing. Several solutions such as involving community members in programming and supporting community based initiatives were suggested.

The second film we screened was Favela Rising. Following on from the earlier discussion we decided to focus the group conversation around a quotation from Anderson Sa: “I am a warrior of the people.”

This was effective in getting the group to consider their, and their organisations role in effecting change in the communities in which they work. The group considered how the strategies utilised by Afro Reggae could be used in the Zimbabwean context. There was also some debate regarding the efficacy of social movements versus non-governmental organisations. The group noted that NGOs in Zimbabwe have become highly professionalised, leaving little room for real activism.

Our goal in hosting this screening to was inspire the activists to approach their work in different and perhaps more effective ways. During the workshop we stressed the importance of giving solutions rather than listing the problems, which are already well documented.

At the end of the morning we asked the activists to fill a feedback form. In answer to the question Briefly describe how you will use what you have learned to improve the activities of your organisation the following are some of the responses:

  • To stand as an activist wherever I go.
  • I will help other activists on how best they can turn information into activism.
  • The people in my community are suspicious of elections. I want their viewpoint to be heard.
  • Facilitate members of my organisation to be able to carry out locally based and formulated programmes.

Zimbabwe based fear

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Monday, November 29th, 2010 by Zanele Manhenga

I am coming from a workshop called 10 Tactics For Turning Information Into Action. There is so much that people know out there but what good is knowledge without you using it? These Ten Tactics help to make sure what you have you use and you use it well. The second tactic is the one that really got me going. Witness and record. This is where the workshop happened for me I tell you.  I suddenly saw myself recording a corrupt police officer taking bribes from vehicle drivers under the disguise of a police roadblock. I could see him taking the money completely oblivious of me recording him with my phone. I could see myself going to an honest police officer and showing him my findings. As I give him that recording there is no fear in me. I am not even afraid of the system because in my dreams it is fair and just. I see him call all the relevant people trying to find out how he can arrest this corrupt policeman who has brought shame to his field of work. I even hear him thank me for being a brave and true citizen because for a moment there in my dream I was actually standing up for what I think is true and right and I have no fear. I see thousands of other Zimbabweans taking my lead and exposing all the corrupt people they brush shoulders with on a daily basis. Yes I did not fear a thing because in my dreams it is every Zimbabwean’s right to stop corruption. I even saw myself standing in the witness box and pointing him out to the judge and saying, yes, this is the man who has helped corruption blossom to a well-rooted tree. Then I came to down to earth, to Zimbabwe in particular, were the fear of the unknown grabs and consumes every day of my life. I came back and realized that where I live is anything but fair and just. Even if I had the guts to record such happenings how far would they go if a million other people live in the same fear as I do.

One step forward…two steps back

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Friday, November 26th, 2010 by Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa

I recently attended a Gender symposium organised by the Gender Forum as part of the their programme for 16-365 Days of activism against gender Based Violence. Various presenters and discussants were invited to share academic papers concerning gender-based violence in Zimbabwe.

The presentation by Ms. Edith Maziofa got me thinking. She began by pointing out the alarming number of headlines that report sexual assault, murder and violence against women, girls and most distressingly infants.

I remember vividly reading about the case of the man who raped his friend’s four-year-old daughter in a collapsed grave. The man was found by his friend’s wife, who reported the matter to the police. At the time of reporting the man had escaped apprehension and was on the run. Discussing the article with some friends, we concluded that it had to have been some sort of ritual, burial sites being sacred in our culture. But what disturbed me the most was that the four year olds father was not to be found anywhere in the story. He was not reported to be outraged, or disowning his friend. It was the mother who reported the rape to the police, the mother who stood outraged at the gravesite with a crowd, the mother who was going to court to seek justice for her child. But where was her husband?

In her presentation, Ms Maziofa noted that the high incidence of these articles, spoke to an even higher prevalence of abuse against women and children.

She discussed the decline of the women’s movement, which reached its peak in the 1990s when it influenced the drafting of a new constitution, the drafting of a national gender policy, and the promulgation of the Domestic violence act.

Despite the remarkable laws protecting women and children, the high media reportage of GBV shows that gender inequality is still deeply entrenched in Zimbabwe. Ms Maziofa queried how well these laws actually worked in protecting vulnerable women and children.

She went further to point out that the gender imbalances in our society impact negatively on income distribution, and noted that despite the widely publicised women’s empowerment movement, economic control and ownership is still male dominated.

Politically this imbalance has serious ramifications. Take for example the unquestioning endorsement by the ZANU PF Women’s League of Robert Mugabe. I have yet to be made aware of any debate regarding the suitability of Amai Mujuru for Chairperson of ZANU PF or indeed, any woman for any government or party position that is responsible for making any real political or national decisions. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, and in particular from this quarter, women are still underrepresented in politics, yet they have the loudest voices when it come to endorsing decisions already made by men.

Are women in politics not capable of making decisions on their own?

Menstruation is shrouded in mystery and myth

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Friday, November 26th, 2010 by Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa

The Gender Forum organised a GBV/HIV & AIDS Fair at the National Gallery as part of their programming for the 16-365 days of activism against gender based violence.

It was happy to stumble upon two very interesting social enterprises.

Integrated Sustainable Livelihoods (ISL) is a trust that works towards the empowerment of women, and tries to address issues that are specific to women. One of their projects addresses the issues surrounding feminine hygiene. Despite this being the information age, and with great advances in medicine, menstruation is still shrouded in mystery and myth, even among women. Societal attitudes towards menstruation have coloured women’s perceptions of their own cycles, and their bodies. Menstruation is seen as something that is shameful and dirty. Given these perceptions, it is not surprising that buying sanitary ware is very low on any list of household priorities, particularly for vulnerable and poor people. Integrated Sustainable Livelihoods conducted a study and found that:

Lack of resources forces young girls to use pieces of cloths, newspapers, cow dung and tissues to try and contain the flowing of blood. During this period they not only experience the characteristic abdominal pains and mood alterations, but also have to be absent from school for fear of odours emanating from newspapers and rags they use to contain their menstrual flow.

More than just pointing out what the problem is, ISL is working in collaboration with the United Nations Development Fund for Women  (UNIFEM) and the Ministry Of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development to improve the reproductive health of marginalized women through provision of a safe alternative to disposable sanitary ware.

The reusable pads are made from cotton fabric and come in various colours. ISL teaches women and women’s groups to not only make these for personal use, but for sale as well; they are also working with several NGOs to supply women in prison with this essential product.

Another trust working to create sustainable livelihoods for women is the Zimbabwe Women Rural Development Trust based in Chivhu. They work to teach rural women skills in entrepreneurship, and to promote knowledge of primary healthcare, reduce infant mortality and increase access to education. While they are currently looking for funding, they also assist women in establishing projects in agriculture, mining and arts and curios.