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Archive for August, 2013

“Life Through My Eyes”

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Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by Marko Phiri

There are many issues that happen around us but which we remain clueless about as we get on with our lives.

It is already a hectic world, we often say, for anyone to take notice of the man standing next to you, but it is only when you hear narratives that weave personal stories that you count your blessings; wonder how unfair life can be; wonder why there are no social safety nets as once known; wonder why there is no functioning social services sector; wonder you hear often some countries being described as “welfare states.”

Indeed all this came pouring like a deluge when I attended the launch of a documentary produced by the Disability HIV and Aids Trust (DHAT) with support from the US Embassy in Harare and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).

The documentary tells the story of visually impaired people living with HIV/Aids, and these very personal stories depict what remains a terrain not understood from local level right up to policy making echelons.

The documentary was shot in Harare where, like in many cities across the country, the visually impaired and disabled surviving as mendicants have become permanent features whose circumstances are not interrogated, whose lives are seen as not intersecting with those of able-bodied people.

One visually impaired couple living with HIV/Aids says even in health institutions, the personnel actually are puzzled how a blind person can contract HIV “as if we blind people are asexual beings.”

This itself was noted by the DHAT country coordinator Hamida Ismail-Mauto who said: “There is general misconception amongst health personnel that people with disabilities do not have sex and therefore do not require health services.”

That testimony is most telling in that it has implications on how disabled people’s health care needs are adequately addressed when prejudice can be found among professionals expected to attend to their needs and expected to know better.

It is no wonder then when the disabled decide not to visit health care centres because of the kind of treatment that awaits them.

A DHAT board member said while able-bodied people have abundant access to sexual health care knowledge where such things as condom use are even demonstrated to them, there remain no such thing for the visually impaired, placing them at the high-end risk of HIV/Aids.

Until someone says it, this is stuff you never think of, or imagine, yet it does open our eyes to daily realities of people with disabilities in this country live with.

It’s already a tough life for the able-bodied, imagine then an HIV+ disabled couple living in the streets and with no access to health care.

As the US Ambassador Bruce Wharton said in his remarks, more resources are needed for people living with disabilities and more interest required in the work being done by people living with different abilities.

Indeed we take some of these issues for granted and only until we see these experiences up close will we realise there is more to this country than clinging to office.

The Naked Option: examples of activism

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Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by Elizabeth Nyamuda

The Naked Option, Last Resort documentary was screened at the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF) in Harare this week. The documentary is a bold inspiration to the many women’s groups and movements across Africa that have taken up protest as part of their activist campaigns. Directed by Candace Schermerhorn and set in Nigeria’s Delta region, which is very rich in oil, the documentary chronicles the challenges grassroots women, and the environment face at the hands of oil companies operating in this region.

The women were pushed to protest due to the high level of environmental degradation caused by oil companies in the Niger delta who flared out gas into the air, polluting water and land. As a result farming and fishing was no longer viable for the women. Another factor that brought outrage was the companies’ reluctance in employing their husbands, brothers and sons. In the documentary the women said that the only benefit they derived from Chevron’s operation in the community was the heat produced when they flared gas. They would dry their cassava using this heat; a process, which usually took days, using the sun’s heat, would only take 5 hours. To them, in as much as this flared gas was a major threat to their environment and health, they saw it as the only direct benefit to their community. However, there then came a time when they were not allowed to enter the oil company’s premises so they could dry or collect their cassava.

In South Africa they famously say ‘Wathintha umfazi wathintha imboko’ (you strike a rock you strike a woman). With all these misgivings about the oil company’s operations, the women took it upon themselves to protest at Chevron’s premises. They spent weeks on the site and disrupted the company’s operations. They gained the attention of the company when they resorted to stripping naked during the protests. In the documentary one of the activists said, “Naked I came to this world, naked I leave”, to show how they had removed the shyness of being naked in peoples eyes as well as their determination. In their tradition it is taboo to strip naked, especially an elderly woman. An example was given that if an elderly woman is offended and strips naked in front of their offender they would have cursed the offender. This group of women protesting comprised of women of all ages, and elderly women were also a part of the group. Thus them stripping naked brought the attention of local and international media and the oil companies too who agreed to sign MOUs with the women where they made ‘empty’ promises. Empty as in up to when the documentary was screened in 2011; none of those promises had been achieved.

This documentary shows the power of women coming together. It took a few minutes for those women to decide they were going to invade Chevron’s premises and then when they managed to stop the company’s operations the women would take 12 hour duties to guard and protest within the premises giving each other time to attend to their household chores.

The Naked Option is a great inspiration to women’s activism and to also question corporate responsibility. Often companies come to extract minerals within communities and concentrate on making the minimum operational costs at the expense of the community’s health, environment and development. My mind went to the families in Chiadzwa and I felt that Sheila Mutsenhu, the lady who stripped naked in front of the US Ambassador in Mutare earlier this year protesting against sanctions in Zimbabwe, should have better directed her efforts. Her being a citizen in the Manicaland province where Chiadzwa diamond mines are located, her zeal would be more beneficial if directed to the cause of women’s issues in the area. Maybe one day she will lead a group of the Manica women to protest demanding better living conditions.

This year is the 12th edition of the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF) and it will run from the 23rd to the 31st of August in Harare. It will move to Bulawayo from the 5th to the 7th of September. You can download the programme here.

Flossing in the fast lane

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Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by Bev Clark

Driving to work yesterday, along the Borrowdale Road, I passed a woman driving in what’s mean to be the fast lane, ie, on the right. She was flossing her teeth. I kid you not. Though this wasn’t as surprising (I think) as the guy I saw driving Very slowly up Arcturus Road the other evening. The reason for his below 30k’s an hour speed? He was changing his shoes.

“Twerk” it

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Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by Lenard Kamwendo

Sex sells. No two ways about it, and that’s the reason we now see billboards and TV commercials with topless men and women everywhere. Different words have been used to describe the sexually suggestive moves we now excessively watch in music videos. Words like “dirty dancing” “gyrating” and “work it” have been mostly used to describe the shaking of the bum whether one is sweating it out in the gym or on the dance floor. To lighten up these sexually provocative words Oxford dictionary has added “twerking” to the list. For doing such moves in public it would earn you unanimous ridicule but with words like  “twerking” people now let it pass for “cool”. So those moves in sungura and rhumba music videos which feature movement of the rump can be now be described as “twerking”. Even when you go for your Zumba classes you might have been twerking without knowing it.

Not an easy road for local musicians

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Thursday, August 29th, 2013 by Marko Phiri

Zimbabwean musicians are steeped in the very eager desire to earn a living out of their craft, and rightfully so.

The sprouting of all sorts of backyard recording studios over the past few years points to a shift from music being a craft plied “by others” to something which you and I can do and can actually can put bread on the table.

Yet that approach could just be what has caused them to be ignored: that anyone can make music, never mind good.

The question then is have they succeeded in turning their microphones into money-spinning enterprises? And have they produced music which local listeners and buyers will take seriously beyond patriotism’s sake?

These are some of the questions that emerged from a discussion organized by DefZeem as part of the weekly Food for Thought series at the US Public Affairs section.

On the panel sat Amara Brown, Pauline from the group MaFriq, Tsungi Zvobgo, who manages musicians that include Amara Brown, and then there was a chap who is manager of such successful acts as Knox of “Ndinonyara” fame.

What emerged was a tale of mixed fortunes, as well as mixed interpretation of what “ought to be” and I got the sense that there is no one-size-fits all for local musicians in the context of that while some take the art as a fulltime occupation, some however see it as a diversion from their “chosen careers.”

A few weeks ago, a @263Chat discussion dwelt on Zimbabwean musicians and why they apparently are being ignored by locals, and why Zimbabweans are ever ready consumers of “foreign” music.

It was obviously informed by the same concerns that brought together the musicians who gathered for the Food For Thought discussion under the theme “Making Music, Making Money.”

It was one of those issues about local music where optimistic young artists imagine they can be the next Oliver Mtukudzi, conveniently forgetting the hours and years Tuku put into his craft.

After all, Tuku is the same man who has been panned for such farcical musical offerings (I remember someone pointing and laughing at Chimbambayira chirimpoto) that he himself would rather forget he ever made recalling the gems he now churns out.

Like Tsungi Zvobgo said, for any serious pretender, music is a fulltime career and there are no short cuts to money and fame.

Hard work never killed anybody, but musicians got to take that chance, I would add, recalling that famous Ronald Reagan quip.

After all the young artists are the same folks who will readily recite American hip hop superstar 50 Cent’s “Get rich or Die Trying” but still imagine that there are easy pickings in music.

It was also refreshing to hear Amara Brown say that her dad insisted that she study music, adding that for her, music is a fulltime gig.

Of course not all artists can, or must enroll at some ethnomusicology school or take up music at some prestigious varsity, yet this has indeed helped some navigate that heartbreaking terrain and define their approaches to the trade.

For Jacqueline from MaFriq her approach to music has meant learning more, working more and keeping herself relevant. She has learnt to play the mbira for example, an instrument she says very few young Zimbabweans choose to play (perhaps because they still view it as a “sacred” instrument).

Obviously this means music for her being more than just standing before the mic be it in the booth or on stage, but actually mastering part of the art that defines one as a proper musician.

Of course it has become acceptable that you don’t necessarily have to play any instrument to pass for a musician, but it certainly helps.

Yet because local music is now very much based on one having a PC, iMac and ProTools, the speed with which “music” is being created is astounding.

But the question is who is buying it? Or are they like those  connoisseurs of sorts who make music just for the sake it because they
want to keep some folk traditions alive?

As Jacqueline said, while new artists welcomed the 75-percent local content when it was introduced back in the days of the madness of the Ministry of Information, it brought with it a down side; in her words “there was no quality control.”

Anything that could be produced bearing the local production sticker was lekker but obviously for the wrong reasons.

Standards fell and it is no wonder there was an outcry to do away with local nonsense dressed music.

It is of concern – morbidly interesting in fact – that there are masters of the art who died paupers despite selling hundreds of thousands of copies of records in what were then Zimbabwe dollars, and some young artists while not gifted with the same flair, imagine there are easy pickings in music, never mind they cannot strum a clumsy tune on a banjo.

While in the past the masters made great music, they also existed during a time of organized bureaucracies with distribution agreements with big and influential music industry companies.

As an aside perhaps, these are the same industry players many times accused of fleecing these same musicians who broke record sales – literally.

And now because there is a shift where artists imagine making music in their backyards can result in instant riches, no such distribution networks now exists, with Knox’s manager warning against the naivety of imagining that these emerging artists can distribute their own stuff “from the boots of their cars” (not his words mine!).

It was therefore inevitable perhaps that the issue of piracy and why local music is so cheap would come up in such a discussion.

There are no easy solutions, says Tsungi Zvobgo.

What she says she has done with artists under her management is to concentrate on making good music, getting it out to the people for not only a pittance but for free even, giving it out to pirates who fill CBD pavements whom we already know sell CDs for a dollar never mind the quality.

From there, the music is with the people, people know it, and when live shows are held, well, the crowd is not being introduced to something that was made years ago but are hearing it for the first time!

What remains undisputed is that, like Buju Banton sang, “it’s not an easy road,” and anyone who picks up a microphone expecting instant fame could be in for cardiac arrest.

I come at it from the outside

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Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 by Bev Clark

 “I’m not club-able, you see. I don’t like literary parties and literary gatherings and literary identities. I’d hate to join anything, however loosely.” – Jeanette Winterson, the Art of Fiction No. 150