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Archive for January, 2011

Why Owen and not Yvonne?

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Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by John Eppel

In her obituary of Yvonne Vera, Ranka Primorac wrote: “The most courageous among them [her other books] is The Stone Virgins, the first work of fiction that openly exposes and condemns the government sponsored violence [Gukurahundi] against civilians in Independent Zimbabwe.”   Primorac goes on to praise its “stylistic mastery and political bravery.”  Yet The Stone Virgins has never been banned; Vera (who, curiously, received the Tucholsky Award of the Swedish PEN for a writer in exile or undergoing persecution) never went into exile, was never persecuted, never even harassed.  The novel was published in 2002 when the government’s policy of re-crafting and subverting the law to support its ideology of “patriotism” was in Operation [upper case deliberate].  How come they left her alone?  I can think of two reasons: first, that Primorac is wrong about Vera’s political courage; second, The Stone Virgins is a novel written in turgid English, and was never likely to influence the restless povo, for most of whom books are unaffordable, and English is very much a second or third language.

By blurring distinctions between dissidents, pseudo-dissidents, and soldiers; between war and massacre; by the timing of the atrocities described in the novel, Vera creates self-protecting ambiguities.  For example, the brutal murder of the shop owner, Mahlatini takes place in 1982, before the Fifth Brigade was officially mobilised.  His killers are called “soldiers”.  Just before he dies, the author puts a suggestive thought in his mind: “He did not want to see who was killing him, just in case he recalled something about the eyes, the forehead, the gait of this man.”  Just in case his killer was a local?

The saintly man, Cephas, associated with the mazhanje (umhobohobo) fruit of the eastern highlands, is Shona (his tagged on surname, Dube, notwithstanding); the diabolical man, Sibaso, associated with the marula fruit of Matabeleland, is Ndebele.  Dissidents and pseudo-dissidents did commit atrocities, some hundreds, mainly against whites and so-called sell-outs; but the Fifth Brigade, targeting innocent rural folk, killed, raped, and maimed tens of thousands.  Vera’s choice of perpetrator in this context seems somewhat skewed.  No wonder she wouldn’t allow copies of Breaking the Silence, Building True Peace, to be displayed in the Art Gallery shop when she was the Director – the same art gallery where Owen Maseko’s exhibition remains sealed off to the public.  So, Ranka Primorac is wrong – there is nothing in The Stone Virgins that” openly” condemns and exposes Gukurahundi.  On the contrary, it is full of lyrical self-censorship.

The second reason why the authorities might have left Yvonne Vera alone recalls the words of the writer, Stanley Nyamfukudza: “One of the best ways to hide information in Zimbabwe is to publish it in a book.”  The Board of Censors tends to overlook the written word because the vast majority of people in this country have little access to books, especially fictional books.  The visual arts, township drama, and performance poetry are another story!  The Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiongo was imprisoned not for his novels in English but for his plays in Kikuyu.  The authorities don’t want the masses to get too excited.

So, why Owen Maseko?  Again, I can think of two reasons: first, his exhibition is courageous to the point of recklessness in its exposure of what has now been officially classified as genocide; second, as a visual artist his work is immediately accessible to the restless povo.  It speaks a universal language.

Myopic Look East Policy

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Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa

The first I ever heard of Deng Xiaoping was in my O Level history class. We were learning Chinese history, the excesses of Chairman Mao, the suffering of the Chinese people during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Then in stepped Deng Xiaoping, Dengism and the beginning of a new era. To hear my history teacher describe it, Deng was the Messiah, and the Chinese Communist Party the flock gone astray.

According to Wikipedia, the Peoples Republic of China is one of the last five communist states in the world. China’s government has been variously described as communist and socialist, but also as authoritarian, with heavy restrictions remaining in many areas, most notably on the internet, the press, freedom of assembly, reproductive rights and freedom of religion.

Deng Xiaoping served as de facto leader of China for almost twenty years. He put it firmly on the path to becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the world. All without the trouble of having regular elections, ‘people driven’ constitutions or misfortune of an Inclusive government. This, despite China effectively being a one party state. In a 2008 Pew research Centre survey 86% of Chinese people expressed satisfaction with the way things were going in their country and with their nation’s economy.

When ZANU PF looks East I wonder what it is looking at. Is it examining the Chinese Communist Party’s successes and failures and how these may be instructional for them too? The same words that describe the Chinese Communist Party may be applied to them. It is not far-fetched that ZANU’s policies could successfully be implemented. Then an all ZANU PF government could also have an 86% approval rating from it’s oppressed citizens. Oppression is subjective. If most people are happy most of the time, are they really oppressed?

Democracy was never a prerequisite for a successful government or economic growth. It’s a nice idea, but I would wager that the majority of people, including myself, would give up a measure of freedom in return for prosperity. China’s one billion plus population is nothing to laugh at.

When ZANU PF looks East it sees the fat wallets of Chinese investors and turns a blind eye to the deals that short change the people. While the president lectures about sovereignty, his ministers systematically turn Zimbabwe once again into a client state for a different ideology.

MDC-T loses its focus as a dynamic political party

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Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Bev Clark

John Makumbe writing on ZimDiaspora believes that MDC-T is “sleeping on the job”. Two of John’s suggestions are interesting to me:

Being in the corridors of state power seems to have made the MDC-T lose its focus as a dynamic political party.


I am urging the progressive leaders of the ruling MDC-T party is to show some political muscle by organizing well-controlled and managed street demonstrations and other effective responses to the actions of the Zanu (PF) hoodlums. Failure to do that in a timely fashion can easily be interpreted as cowardice.

But the failure of real change taking root in Zimbabwe rests with Zanu PF, MDC and the people of Zimbabwe. The MDC won’t organise street protests or boycotts or stayaways because they won’t get anyone to participate. I wonder if 2011 will be the year in which the description of Zimbabweans being cowards is shot down?

Here’s the full article:

Reports of the Zanu (PF) militia running amok and disrupting normal council business in various parts of Harare are a clear indication that the ruling party, the MDC, is sleeping on the job. We all know that Zanu (PF) is desperate to return from the political wilderness into Harare and win some of its constituencies again.

We also know that most of the hoodlums causing havoc in the name of Zanu (PF) are not Hararians, but rural bumpkins who are being bussed in from Bindura, Chinhoi, Banket and Karoi. Zanu (PF) no longer has any significant numbers of youths in Harare.

They all have defected to the ever-popular MDC-T. With the ailing Mugabe calling for elections this year, the dwindling supporters of the dying political party think that they can re-group, intimidate the Harare residents and make them vote for the former liberation party once again.

Fortunately, this is not going to happen; indeed, the hooliganism that they are displaying is only going to alienate more people from the beleaguered party.

But the point of this contribution is that being in the corridors of state power seems to have made the MDC-T lose its focus as a dynamic political party. Somehow the party thinks that it has arrived. The truth of the matter is that, guys, you are not there yet. The struggle must continue on all fronts until final victory and the realization of real change.

It is surprising that whereas Zanu (PF) youths are being organized to march and demonstrate against Harare City Council and MDC-T Members of Parliament (MPs), those of the Prime Minister’s party are conspicuous by their absence, silence and inactivity. I personally believe that if MDC-T youths were active in the streets and the suburbs and townships, Zanu (PF) hoodlums would not have the courage to run amok disturbing normal business.

It is high time that these lawless hired hands were made to know that their reeling party lost the political support of the people of all urban centres years ago. Confrontation is an effective weapon against riotous puppies of dictatorship.

The people of Mbare are experiencing serious levels of harassment from these misguided Zanu (PF) militia on a daily basis. Flea market vendors are being intimidated and robbed of their wares practically every day. When the victims of these demonic acts report these incidences to the Zanu Repressive Police (ZRP) they are told to bring to the police station the people who will have harassed them.

Senior officials of the MDC-T behave as if all is well, even though these reports are being made to them regularly. Zanu (PF) must not be allowed to have its way with the lives of innocent people without being made to pay the price of such folly. I am not suggesting that MDC-T supporters and youths
adopt violence as a response to the wild actions of the Zanu (PF) hooligans.

Far from it.

All I am urging the progressive leaders of the ruling MDC-T party is to show some political muscle by organizing well-controlled and managed street demonstrations and other effective responses to the actions of the Zanu (PF) hoodlums. Failure to do that in a timely fashion can easily be interpreted
as cowardice.

One of the reasons why Mugabe is calling for elections in 2011 is that he sees the actions of these hired rogues as evidence that Zanu (PF) now has the upper hand in terms of political support in Zimbabwe’s urban areas. A spate of MDC-T street demonstrations throughout the country will quickly dispel these ill-advised notions and allow the country to go for elections when the time and conditions are right.

Money for graves

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Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Amanda Atwood

As Bev blogged the other day, in a recent meeting Harare East residents argued that if the government of Zimbabwe made land available for free under the land reform program then why should a dead corpse be made to buy land from the City of Harare?

We thought they had a point, so we asked our SMS subscribers for their opinion.

The 100+ responses fell broadly into two camps, with about 30% of respondents suggesting that charging for a burial plot was fair – the belief being that these funds should go to servicing the cemeteries, paying grounds people, and so forth.

Unfortunately, many Zimbabweans have lost a lot confidence in their government and elected officials – and thus are cynical about whether burial fees would be appropriately used. This is one of the reasons why around 70% of respondents agreed with the Harare East residents, that there should be no charge for burial plots.

Responses seemed to divide cleanly along the lines of whether the respondent thought the money would get put to relevant use – and not pocketed or politicised. Thus, it’s worrying that 70% of respondents were opposed to the charging of burial fees; it suggests that 70% are also sceptical about the integrity of government and our elected officials.

Read a sampling of replies below:

  • I think they must pay since that land needs to be serviced, but the rates must be affordable.
  • If land was given for free, this also means grave yards are also land. So land is for free. Corpses should not pay.
  • My answer is City of Harare have no right to charge them. Burial fees because the land was given free. They mustn’t search for money with an axe on their shoulder.
  • We have to understand that our leaders are gold diggers. We must not pay for the dead. Never.
  • Grave yards need to be maintained so payments is required.
  • Land Reform Act: free land yes I don’t think we pay for the land but for the service done by City Council, however they should cut the current cost to half thus how I think.
  • I think burial fees must be paid because that piece of land will never be used again.
  • We are not supposed buy land for burial if land is ours.
  • How can dead person pay something?
  • It’s right to pay for all services in the city. It’s not right to extend the land issue to things like these.
  • Free land, free burial.
  • If land was parcelled out for free during land reform, then burial should be free, after all the fund won’t benefit residents no charges for your birthright please!
  • Is it not a way to raise revenues? Also I’m not aware of the city’s by-laws.
  • People are cheated and robbed of their hard earned cash in broad daylight.
  • They should not pay.
  • I think that’s a challenging question to their MP. These guys take people for a ride. They use people for them to benefit. It’s bad.
  • In fact the sense’s not about land but its all about fundraising of the city council. That’s where they get their salaries. That’s what l think.

The top job in Zimbabwe

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Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Bev Clark

Egypt Day of Anger video

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Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Amanda Atwood

I’ve just watched this amazing video of Egypt’s 25 January Day of Anger protests. In the face of an oncoming water cannon one man turns and stands before it, blocking the spray and inspiring others to also stand up to it.