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What is a good deal?

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Tuesday, September 9th, 2008 by James Hall
Some characters in our neighbouring country are hopping mad over a Zapiro cartoon that appeared in the weekend press. It has Zuma unbuckling his belt before a prostate lady justice held down by his alliance partners, all senior members of the ANC, ANC Youth League, COSATU and SACP. It has generated a lot of debate. Is the same debate taking place in Zimbabwe, over the new deal, or are we all too preoccupied with survival to care?

Morgan Tsvangirai would rather have no deal than a bad deal. So what is a good deal? From earlier reports, the mediator Mbeki thinks a good deal is one that keeps Morgan from executive power. Mbeki is obsessed with the African renaissance to the point where he alone and perhaps Pahad, knows what is best for all Africans especially Zimbabweans. He does not think it right to foist Morgan on an unsuspecting population because Morgan does not speak the queen’s English and cannot spell African century. Mbeki sees Morgan Tsvangirai as someone who fawns on the West and, therefore, not befitting of the new African that is regularly profiled in New African Magazine. The new African, according to Mbeki and other Pan Africanists, is one who regularly “stands up” to white people at conferences to deafening applause from the lefties who live in first world economies in Scandinavia. In his wisdom, and to guarantee this, Mbeki therefore has prescribed his version of a good deal: keep Morgan out of executive decision making and give him all the travel that he so much yearns but without any power to sell Zimbabwe off to imperialists or Ben Menashe.

Morgan on the other hand, wants his cake because he bought it fair and square but he wants to eat it, in front of the street kids standing on the pavement. The same street kids who have been looking after his car and warning potential thieves to steer clear of their chef’s car which has allowed him the extra change to buy the cake! Is Morgan going to share the cake? Not really because he is negotiating a deal with the local authority that will leave them in charge of street kid security and rehabilitation. The local authorities have long memories and remember which street kids did the most shouting when they were guarding Morgan’s car and in fact, have been pursuing these street kids for a while. To make matters worse, under the new deal, these street kids may have to guard the cars of the same authorities who have been hunting them down.

So while Zapiro suggests lady Justice is threatened in our neighbouring country, our street kids have seen this before in the 80′s, and with Murambatsvina, and pre and post election 2008 and they have a troubling sense of foreboding that they are about to get screwed again.

Whose deal is this?

This moment of controversy

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Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 by James Hall

I am worried. I am worried that, caught up in the throes of the fight for power sharing, we will compromise the principle of justice and reparations. I am worried that we will turn the real deaths, torture and dismemberment of real people into mere statistics to be read out on Heroes Day for years to come. I am worried that the real stories of real 74 year old men in Gokwe whose limbs have been broken, by design, for daring to father children who grew up to be opposition activists, will disappear; that the stories of real grandmothers who have succumbed to injuries from real beating by real hordes of real youths sent by a real political machinery to spread fear and rob people of their dignity will be but a distant memory.

I am worried that we will achieve peace but not justice. I am worried that weary of all this crap, we are now preparing to favour expediency over conviction. I look at the Simon Wiesental Centre that has given some measure of justice to the Jewish people. I look at the truth and reconciliation commission of South Africa that has given some measure of closure to the people of South Africa and then I look at the struggle for “‘power sharing” in Zimbabwe and I worry.

How can you share power with the people who, by design, not in a civil war, but by cold, calculated planning terrorised an entire nation just because they lost an election? What manner of pragmatism is this that achieves results for an elite and leaves gaping wounds seared into the memories of thousands upon thousands of Zimbabwean citizens whose sole crime was to exercise their right to choose? Have the chosen ones taken this very real choice with very real consequences in vain?

Justice where art thou? Conviction, have you fled our hearts as we savour the prospect of wood paneled offices? Shall we pay for this later and start the cycle all over again? Who, in “this moment of controversy” shall remain true to what we stand for?

“Truth above power, nation above government!”

Morgan’s poor choices

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Friday, August 22nd, 2008 by James Hall

Whoever advises Morgan Tsvangirai must be an academic stuck on definitions and not a strategist grounded in reality. I have consistently argued that Morgan should have contested the run off election. By giving in to his national executive council or advisers and pulling out of the election, he displayed a lack of resolve and leadership and worsened Zimbabwe’s crisis. By his own admission, he wanted to participate but chose consensus over common sense. Even Nelson Mandela, a man renowned for consensus decision making had to enforce his leadership position and negotiate with the apartheid regime on his own during the Pollsmoor years, despite the suspicion and resistance of his long time comrades.

Whether they like it or not, the MDC T’s pulling out of the run off elections, gave Mugabe a legal argument to carry on and be declared victor. The MDC T forgot that they had accepted the results of the parliamentary election which immediately pointed to a government of national unity to more correctly reflect the much touted will of the people. In a hurry to get in to power and bruised from the experience of the court battles from the previous elections, the MDC T enthusiastically endorsed a flawed parliamentary outcome in anticipation of a landslide in the Presidential election. But then, “a week is a long time in politics.” It is my contention that if Morgan had participated in the election, the SADC observers, and the rest of the world would have declared the resultant Mugabe victory null and void because of the conditions on the ground before, during and after the elections. Morgan would have had a stronger hand to negotiate from with the added moral high ground. Morgan did not save any lives by pulling out. He complicated matters for all concerned.

Badly advised both by his colleagues and light weight regional powers, he has put himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. To compound matters, this hard place has an even harder mediator who is clearly opting for power sharing – something the MDC T agreed to without much strategic thought. Moral high grounds do not win wars as Sadaam Hussein will telegraph you from the grave. The moral battle has long been lost and the people who lost their lives for an outright victory have been betrayed by this weak kneed approach to the rough and tumble of African politics.

The new moral imperative is forget the power plays, sort out the economy and lets get on with our lives. Welshman Ncube’s interview with Basildon Peta is instructive in basic politics and I hope that Morgan, for the sake of the country, realises that it is time to live and sup with the devil because that is practicable. The African people, including us coloureds (God’s forgotten people), will have once more been betrayed by practical issues and lady justice will have no choice but to douse her flame. Is this the nature and pace of societal development? Perhaps, but then that is another topic.

We are all stressed

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Wednesday, June 25th, 2008 by James Hall

At the height of the violence in Kenya, it is reported that, the madams in the suburbs were upset that the maids were not turning up for work. On the BBC world service Outlook programme, there has just been a report about a till operator in Paris, with a degree in literature, who has published a book on how customers have become more and more rude to supermarket employees. This got me thinking about Zimbabwe. This topic may seem trivial and frivolous in the light of what we are going through but a society must be judged by its treatment of all of its citizens whether at a political rally, at an SPCA meeting, a parents assembly at school or in front of the tills.

The people who ring the sales in your favourite supermarket wake up at 4am because they live so far away from the area where they work. They then light a fire so that they can have a hot bath in a basin of sorts. After that, they have to wake up hungry children and get them to take a bath before heading for the kombi bus stop to wait an hour or so for transport. They have, at this stage, no idea what the transport fare is going to be and more often than not, they have to catch two sets of buses to get to work. When they get to work, they will be confronted by broken down visa machines through no fault of theirs or the supermarket. They are also already physically tired because they may or may have been invited for a political meeting the night before.

Who walks in at that moment? Madame Surburban Housewife, who rightly demands the best in service because she happens to travel to Cape Town on holiday and is therefore used to international standards in countries who inflation is a mere 10%, where the transport runs on time and the employees are paid a living wage. Madame suburban housewife, should perhaps pause to think about these poor souls and greet them first? Of course they are paid to greet customers with a smile, but at the rate things are going up how can a lowly paid till operator afford a smile when he cannot afford breakfast for his children and when he sees how much Madame Suburban Housewife is spending on olives for Sunday lunch?

Is it perhaps time to acknowledge that at times we take better care of our pets than we do fellow human beings – in terms of common decency towards employees who deserve a break from the pressures of their daily lives and the coal face at the check out counter? So next time you go to the supermarket, how about you greet the till operator warmly and with a smile, even if you are not paid to do it? “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Have a great day!

Give me liberty or death

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Monday, June 23rd, 2008 by James Hall

Robert Mugabe spent 11 years in jail for his role as one of several leaders fighting for independence. The playing field was distinctly uneven and brutal. Yet the nationalists persevered in their quest for freedom. Today, Morgan Tsvangirai has, on moral grounds, pulled out of a watershed election for the same country.

The first point is, while participating in any civic struggle for justice is a personal choice, its abandonment, by those you follow, days before the final hurdle represents a betrayal of those who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of the regime one is seeking to replace. We have seen in television clip after television clip, interviews of people lying in extreme pain on their hospital beds vowing that they will still vote for the MDC regardless of what has happened to them. Who will provide them with closure now that their suffering has been rendered “meaningless” by the withdrawal by a leader who used to love “consulting” with the people before taking on any major decision?

The second point is Morgan Tsvangirai has made a moral decision because the people are being battered. I think that Morgan has been battered in to submission and he did not have the courage of his convictions to see this through. Why would he be prepared to negotiate a deal with someone he considers a monster? What deal will they come up with? How will Morgan justify sitting in a government of national unity after this? Could he not have participated in this election under protest?

So while it is understandable, the cold fact is he has handed Robert Mugabe victory on a “technicality” and that, from a legal point of view, still counts as a victory. This means his decision is not excusable. The fight for freedom has always been, at the very bottom of bottom lines, a “give me liberty or death” battle and Morgan and his advisors have failed the nation on this count. I know it is easier to say from behind a keyboard but Morgan’s role is that of a leader and mine is that of a commentator who actually pitched up for the final push on two successive days, ready to die for the country. Do not get me wrong, what has been going on is reprehensible but is the road to freedom, the world over, not littered with corpses and broken limbs?

Not your kind of African

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Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 by James Hall

Dear Mr Mbeki

You made a famous speech at the beginning of your presidency about being an African. You also launched an ambitious and laudable project for the African Renaissance. Your place in history was guaranteed before you even started but your recent history of “No Aids, No Crime and No crisis” has only served to visit a torrent of ridicule on the man who is meant to represent the new African leadership.

From your pronouncements over the last few years, it is clear that your version of the African Renaissance meant that you were going to choose to work to banish all forms of stereotypes regarding the African man. Unfortunately, you have been so eager to do so that you have probably reinforced the very stereotypes you were working to dissolve. In fact, you have actually worsened the image of the black leader in the eyes of the world giving opportunities to newspapers like the Washington Times to label you a “Rogue Democrat.”

Instead of working to immediately acknowledge the severity of the AIDS pandemic and rape in South Africa for instance, you spent more time arguing against the perceived sexual tendencies of black people. AIDS is a world wide phenomenon! In Sudan, instead of rightly criticising the Khartoum regime for the state assisted genocide in their country, you chose to attack Winston Churchill for his adventures there ages ago! Then of course, there is “no crisis Zimbabwe.” While respected moral leaders like Desmond Tutu were loudly criticising Mugabe for being “the caricature of the African dictator” you were busy labeling him a coconut. You, as an African leader, have clearly not been “up to the task” in the Zimbabwean crisis!

Is it possible, then, Mr Mebki that you have taken your obsession for the African renaissance to such ridiculous levels that you are not willing to criticse Africans for the things you so desperately no longer want them to be guilty of in the eyes of the world? Are you going to sacrifice the children of Africa on the altar of convenience that wishes to restore the status of the African in history’s opinion? Did Idi Amin not exists much in the same way that Hitler did? Are Israeli atrocities in Palestine not comparable to Sudanese atrocities in Darfur?

Mr African, where is your sense of “I am because we are?” Where is your Ubuntu? History will not remember you for NEPAD. It will record you as the bright eyed renaissance man who was so obsessed with liberating the world of its image of Africa and Africans that he forgot the moral standards required for Africa to shed that very image. Your legacy will be that of intellectual, political and moral complicity in the deaths of AID patients, scars of crime victims and terrified citizens terrorised by their own governments in their own countries while you blamed the west and played with conspiracy theories. I, too, am proud to be an African, but not your kind of African.