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If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems will look like nails

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Tuesday, November 30th, 2010 by Catherine Makoni

As we commemorate this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, I want to think of some of the Zimbabwean women I have met in the course of the year. I will try and give you a snapshot of their lives. These are women who I dare say, will not be celebrating much this year except perhaps being alive.

Martha* is a courageous woman. She was assaulted two weeks ago in Mudzi where she had gone to follow up Sarudzai*, a victim from 2008. When Martha got to Sarudzai’s homestead she was told that Sarudzai had not been back since 2008. I do not know where Sarudzai is living now. I do not know whether she is still alive. I do not know how she is faring. As for Martha, she has recovered from the assault that she was subjected to. She smiles and puts a brave face on it because as she says, this is not the first time. She has had it worse before. My attitude towards the violence she has been subjected to is not as blasé as hers seems to be. I get upset, I get angry and then I am afraid. Afraid for her because, one of these days, they will accomplish what they have spent the last 10 years trying to do. Beat her into silence. Beat her into submission. Beat her to death because with Martha, I am sure death is the only way they will silence her.

Rutendo* knows the pain of displacement only too well. At 64, she had to suffer the pain and humiliation of being gang-raped by boys young enough to be her grandsons. The trauma of that experience lives with her still. None of her close relatives know about her ordeal. She never went back home after that night. Now she goes from relative to relative, living from day to day, wondering when she will die. She wonders if she could be infected but she has not been able to go for tests. It’s a lot for her just to wake up and go about the business of living. Rape is not an event. It lasts a lifetime.

Chipo* is a 33 year old woman. In September, she had not seen her children since December 2009. She could hardly talk about her children without breaking down. They now live in the rural areas with their paternal grandparents and Chipo does not have the money to go and visit them. Her oldest son will sometimes beg some kind adult and call Chipo. He will beg her to come and get them. But Chipo has not been able to get her life together. You see, Chipo was brutally beaten and raped. When that happened, her husband decided he could not live with a woman who had “tasted” other men. He told her to leave. Chipo tried to hang on to her two children, but without a home, it was difficult. She made the decision to take the children to their father because at least he still had somewhere to live. She had nothing. Rape is not just about the woman; it is about the woman, her husband, her family and her children. They too are victims.

Someone else who knows the impact of violence on children is Bertha* who is 44 years old. Her youngest child was 1 month old when she was subjected to brutal beatings and rape. Bertha is convinced that the days she spent sitting outside exposed to the relentless June cold in 2008, as punishment for her and her husband’s political beliefs are what killed her son. I met Bertha just two weeks after she buried her son.  Bertha says her remaining children are so traumatised by the violence they witnessed that every time they see strangers approaching their home, they run away into the bush. One such time her son saw a man they recognised from the 2008 beatings of her mother. He was walking along the road that passes by their home. They thought he was coming for them and they ran off into the bush. Her 7-year-old son fell and broke his arm. Two year after the violence, these children are still traumatised. As for Bertha, she is still trying to rebuild her life. Starting with rebuilding her home, which was burnt down for the 3rd time in August 2008. Violence breeds poverty. Violence leaves victims battling with trauma.

Should l tell you about Agnes*? She was beaten and raped until she lost consciousness.  Her husband’s grandmother found her still unconscious the next morning. She roused her and hid her in the bush. There she was to spend the next 5 days while traditional herbs were applied to try and heal her. You see in the violence, the men who were raping her tore through her vagina to her rectum.  Agnes lost her husband. When he came back, they went for tests and she was HIV Positive. He tested negative. He divorced her. That was in December 2008. Agnes has to live with HIV. She has to go to the toilet often and she is always worried that she smells. That is her daily reality. That and the recurrent nightmares and panic attacks. Did l mention that she has to carefully choose where she walks in case she meets one of her attackers?

I could go on, but l won’t. I am sure you get the picture.

The theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism is Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence against Women.

The Centre for Women’s Global Leadership defines militarism as:

An ideology that creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression, or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests. It is a psychology that often has grave consequences for the true safety and security of women and of society as a whole. To embrace militarism is to presume that everyone has enemies and that violence is an effective way to solve problems.

I am sure most of us are familiar with the rhetoric that we have been fed with each successive election. Already this is being ramped up ahead of the rumoured 2011 elections. The Zimbabwe Peace Project in their October 2010 Report state that there have been 47,882 reported violations since 2008. These include rape, assaults, intimidation, discrimination, kidnapping, unlawful detention, arson and torture and displacement. There is clearly an ideology that seeks to create a culture of fear and which supports the use of violence for political and economic ends. Analysts have spoken about the militarisation of the State in Zimbabwe (appointment of the military to strategic institutions like Zimbabwe Prisons Service (ZPS) the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), and parastatals such as the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM), the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) but have not really examined what it means for women.

The women I spoke about above were victims because they were wives, sisters and daughters and even daughters-in-law of political activists. Others were activists in their own right. Their bodies became canvases on which was inscribed in blood, the messages of hate and violence. Militarisation means increased insecurity and violence for women. It means exclusion from political life. It means a reversal of all the gains that had been made in the past 30 years. It means spending money on the military and quasi-military apparatus and not on the efforts to prevent the deaths of the 725 women who die every year while giving birth.

Section 23A of the Constitution gives everyone a right to participate in the political affairs of this country. Violence negates that right. It drives fear into whole communities. It divides communities. It breeds poverty, disability and death. It undermines the full realization of the human potential in our communities. 23 years after the signing of the Unity Accord that officially ended the military campaign that killed over 20 000 people, the after effects are still being felt. You see, once you lose your father, mother, brother or sister, they remain lost you forever.

But this is not just about the 3 or 6 months in the year where all reason is suspended as politicians fight it out on the community battlefield. A wise person once said, “What people tolerate in peace shapes what they tolerate in war”.  The problem is, with increased militarization, violence will become more and more entrenched and “normalized.”

*Names have been changed.

Preparing the ground

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Thursday, November 11th, 2010 by Catherine Makoni

I woke up today to a gentle shower falling outside. It was a slow and steadily falling rain; the kind that nourishes the earth. The warm, life sustaining shower that slowly sinks into the ground, soaked up by a parched earth, ever falling even as the sun peeks through. When the time is right, these showers produce the most amazing rainbows. Rainbows so colourful and so vibrant you thought you only had to reach it to touch it. I have spent countless hours amazed at this phenomenon. Growing up, our mothers knew, this was the perfect rain to plant your sweet potatoes in. For the younger tots it was in such showers that you spent countless fun filled hours, playing while mothers watched with mock indignation. The rain was so gentle, so warm, a caress on our skins.

As l opened the windows, my senses were assailed by that sweet, illusive aroma that wafts from the earth at the start of the rains. You can smell it, but it defies description. You just want to go outside and roll around in the wet grass and hope you absorb it through every pore of your being. You open your mouth and take it in in large gulps. You still can’t take in enough. It is the promise of new beginnings. It speaks of renewal and rebirth. It is the sweet smell of hope. It is the reward of months of faith. It is the earth exhaling in thanksgiving. It promises tender juicy mealies; so tender you eat the corn with the cob and sweet, sweet pumpkins.  It’s the promise of mounds of hot sadza and pumpkin leaves in peanut butter sauce. It says to the watcher, watch and wait, the season of plenty is nigh.

This shower is not the violent thunderstorm that so often occurs at the start of the rain season. The storm that is often full of sound and fury and at the end leaves a trail of death and destruction. This violent storm leaves gullies in the ground and tears up the trees from their roots. The lightning incinerates homes and leaves people stranded with only the clothes on their backs. The rain from this storm does not sink into the ground; rather, it sweeps across the land, taking away crops and livestock. Destroying when it is supposed to nourish. Taking life when it is supposed to give it. Our people knew not to plant their crops by these rains. Rather, you watched and you waited. You tilled the land and you prepared your seed for soon it would be time to plant under the nourishing rains that came after the storm.

And so it is with the affairs of Zimbabwe. We have experienced the sound and fury of countless violent storms. Entire families and communities have been uprooted and displaced. Storms of violence have left a trail of death and destruction. Yet still the gentle showers come, with the promise of renewal and rebirth. We open our lungs and take gulpfuls of the sweet illusive scent of new beginnings. We prepare the ground and we ready the seed and then we watch and we wait; because since time immemorial, these showers have said, the season of plenty is nigh. For however violent the storm, it soon wears itself out.

Now we know his salary, perhaps he can disclose the full extent of his wealth

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Thursday, September 16th, 2010 by Catherine Makoni

Interesting article in the Sunday Mail of the 12th-18th September 2010. Good to know the president got a salary increase from $400 to $1750. Good percentage increase for himself there. Wonder how many people would get an increase of +400% in this environment? Not many l would wager. Anyway now that we know how much he earns officially perhaps we can have another front page disclosure of how much he earns from other perhaps “unofficial sources of income”? It would be interesting to know how the family could afford to send the first daughter to school in Hong Kong on a $400 salary.  Maybe she benefitted from the Presidential Scholarship Fund? I mean a $400 salary surely meant her parents fell under the “disadvantaged” category? And that would have qualified her for a presidential scholarship wouldn’t it?

Great that he can now open an Edgars Clothing account. “When the President read it, he beamed and said, “The salary has not only improved; l am also eligible for an Edgars Account!” That according to Cde Charamba. But then, he hardly needs it does it? It would really be funny if it wasn’t so cruelly arrogant and insensitive.

Is Someone Thinking of an Energy Plan for Zimbabwe?

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Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 by Catherine Makoni

When I left work at 2pm on Friday I carried some work home with me. You see, l foolishly intended to do some work over the weekend. Foolishly, because like most Zimbabweans, l live with the reality of load shedding. Some have it worse than others. Like most Zimbabweans, the electricity goes when it goes and comes when it comes. According to the ZESA schedule, I was not supposed to have load shedding over the weekend, but at noon on Friday, it was lights out in my neck of the woods. It remained lights out until Saturday at about 3 pm. We had electricity all of 30-40 mins before it was lights out again, throughout the rest of the day and into night. Sunday morning came and went with no electricity. It only came back at about 3pm on Sunday. Needless to say, I could do no work; I was busy fretting about the putrefying veges and leftovers in my fridge.

I have relatives living in peri-urban Gweru. This used to be a thriving farming community before the farmers were “liberated” of their farms. These farmers would deliver tank loads of fresh milk to Dairibord, among other produce. Now of course that doesn’t happen anymore. The merry (in a manner of speaking) band of stragglers who resettled on some of these farms struggle to produce enough maize to feed themselves from one season to the next. Of course, the region is not a good maize growing region. But that’s another story. The story is that for the few remaining dairy farmers, the power outages have really hit them hard. On a typical day, it’s lights out at 5.30 and back in the evening or as late as 10 pm. How is anyone expected to maintain any level of productivity when you don’t have electricity for the main and productive part of the day? Think of the wheat farmers who cannot irrigate their winter wheat crop because there is no power. To think this is a story that is being repeated even as our long comatose manufacturing industry tries to sputter to life. It is being repeated in hundreds of thousands of homes where young people are trying hard to study for their “O” and “A” Level exams. It is being repeated in the hospital wards, labs and theatres where doctors and nurses are failing to give patients proper care. I would imagine the story is the same in the mining industry. As for business, you would be well advised to have your office in the CBD. Go 2 km out of the CBD and you are fair game for power cuts. It seems ZESA is determined to kill off what few businesses remain viable after the last ten years of madness in Zimbabwe.

What I am not hearing in all this talk of power (the political kind) is any talk of an energy plan. The truth of the matter is that the sub region is heading for a power crisis (of the electrical kind!). I hope for all our sakes, someone is alive to this reality or else we are doomed to be a nation of noisy, air polluting generators. City of Harare it would seem, has woken up and smelt the er…sunshine. They have started installing solar traffic lights. So how about streets lights to stop the muggings?

And who says, we should only have one power utility company in Zimbabwe?

Women as vectors of disease: The problem with ill-thought campaigns

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Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 by Catherine Makoni

I have been listening to, watching and reading the series of adverts by NAC, DFID, and PSI and endorsed by the Ministry of Health with concern. I am referring to the adverts dealing with the issue of small houses. At a meeting some time last year at which Wellington Mushayi from PSI presented his findings on the issue of concurrent multiple relationships, l problematised a number of their findings. I also problematised the way he presented his data. In particular l found offensive his use of the word hure in the title of their research report titled “Small House, Hure, Sugar Daddies, and Garden Boys: A Qualitative Study of Heterosexual Concurrent Partnerships Among Men and Women in Zimbabwe, 2007″.

My contention then and now is that the acceptability of the use of hure in this research was not an accident. Nor was it just a case of the researchers being objective. It reflected the patriarchal world view of the research team. I remember him justifying the use of this word on the grounds that it was merely meant to reflect what was coming out in the findings. But that does not wash. The research was done mainly in local languages. They translated the responses and they maintained the word hure even after this translation. What did they want to communicate?

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Muchadeyi Masunda and the USD152 000 car

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Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 by Catherine Makoni

Since its formation the MDC has campaigned on a platform of change, democracy, good governance and respect for the rule of law. I want to talk about ACCOUNTABILITY and the MDC. If they campaigned on the platform that they are different, they have to show us that they are different, otherwise they have no right talking about the speck in the eye of ZANU PF when they cannot see the log in their own eye.  Accountability refers to such concepts as responsibility, answerability, enforcement, liability for blame and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving. I trawled the MDC’s website looking for something that could give me a concrete indication of the principles that the party stands for and this is what l came up with;

MDC Governance Principles

An MDC government shall listen to its people and will serve the nation and protect the nation honestly.

The people of Harare are saying that they do not want the Mayor to be spending USD152 000 on a luxury Mercedes Benz while the city residents go without water and other essential services. The people of Harare are saying they do not want the mayor to travel around in the lap of luxury while they get mugged on dark streets. The city’s residents are saying no to a luxury vehicle which the mayor cannot even use to visit those of the city’s residents who live in areas where the roads have become impassable due to the deterioration. The city’s residents are saying to the MDC mayor, no to splurging money on immoral purchases that cannot be justified by a council hamstrung for money to spend on essential services. Muchadeyi Masunda should buy a vehicle that will enable him to visit Morton Jaffray Waterworks to see the progress or lack thereof in the treatment of the city’s water. He should buy a vehicle that will enable him to visit Hatcliff Extension and see the lack of progress towards construction of roads. A Mazda “Eagle” truck from Willowvale fits the bill and serves the dual purpose of promoting local industry. What is the point in the MDC hosting workshops urging people to support local industries by “buying Zimbabwean” when they are not willing to lead by example?  Now that the people of Harare have spoken, will the MDC listen and serve the nation honestly? Accountability demands that the mayor be answerable to the people that he purports to serve.

An MDC government will serve the nation effectively and efficiently through a professional, motivated and dedicated Public Service.

This is the other principle stated on the MDC website. They are promising us an efficient, professional, motivated and dedicated public service. Now the Mayor recently splurged thousands of USD on his installation festivities, with entertainment, food and drink aplenty. Was this necessary for a council that is failing to deliver essential services to its public? Was that the most effective and efficient use of public resources by a public official? Was it professional? The people of Harare do not think that is the most efficient, effective or professional way of spending scarce public resources. We would rather the money spent on beer and other refreshments during the installation ceremony had been channelled towards rehabilitating just one council library or refurbishing just one council clinic so that women do not die in childbirth while elected officials feast at the trough. They could have held a low key ceremony at town house. We would not have begrudged them that. Ostentatious ceremonies are reminiscent of birthday parties of governments past that have seen chefs engorging themselves while people starved in the countryside. Now can the MDC explain how different they are from that? The MDC certainly have no right to be making comments such as those reportedly made by Cllr Masiye Kapare who allegedly said “Do these rabble-rousers feel it is alright for the mayor, who is actually the face of Zimbabwe by virtue of heading the country’s capital, to be seen around in a small cheap car which may make him a laughing stock to ambassadors and other partners?” I want to challenge Cllr Kapare to show me one ambassador or funding partner who would rather the money that they are donating be spent on ostentatious luxury vehicles for the Mayor than on ensuring that council clinics are properly stocked with medication to ensure that the city’s children do not die needlessly. Or buying books for council schools to ensure that the city’s children are given a fair chance at being productive citizens. Splurging public resources on luxury vehicles and parties is not the most efficient use of resources, it is not professional and it reflects badly on this party.

An MDC government will serve the people of Zimbabwe’s interests not individuals, or groups of individual. (sic)

Muchadeyi Masunda is quoted as defending the proposed purchase of the luxury Mercedes Benz by saying; “People should not treat this as if it is me or the town clerk who is demanding that I get a car,” he argued. “The project is just part of the council budget. Why would people complain about the mayor’s car? Why do they not raise the same concerns about ministers’ cars or the prime minister’s or even President Mugabe’s motorcade? Street lights, road repairs and the mayor’s car are all budgeted for. If Simba Moyo became the next Mayor, he will be driven around in that car.”

With all due respect, Mr Masunda misses the point. Is he saying if cabinet ministers steal then he can also steal? Is he saying that he wants the Mercedes because the President has a host of them? Is he going to be demanding a mayoral motorcade next? Just because the President moves around with a gazillion cars in his motorcade does not make it ok for the mayor to splurge on one. I thought MDC is about accountability? How different is this brand of politics from the brand that we have been living under for the past 29 years? So what if it is part of the budget? It is a bad budget that makes provision for a $152 000 car while the city’s residents go without essential services. Nor does the apparent endorsement by the Minister Chombo make it right. Chombo says the Mayor deserves “a nice car, preferably a Mercedes Benz. Not necessarily an ML. I would prefer an S Class 350.” On what does the Minister base that conclusion? What has Masunda done to deserve an S Class? Is this performance based? When he has just officially been sworn in? Really?

Of course Mr Masunda wants the car. He feels justified because cabinet ministers and the prime minister all have luxury cars. The demand for a new luxury car is about serving the interests of the mayor as an individual. That goes against everything the MDC purports to espouse. The luxury cars that the MDC MPs and ministers have been clamouring for are about serving their interests as a group of politicians. How does his driving around in a luxury vehicle serve the people of Harare? It doesn’t!

Now accountability also presupposes that the Mayor can be called upon to justify his actions and to suffer punishment in the event of a finding of wrongdoing. This is where CHRA comes in. How about legal action to interdict the Mayor from buying this vehicle? That would ensure that he is answerable to us wouldn’t it? MDC’s officials like Caesar’s wife should be above reproach.