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Mourning the death of an icon

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Friday, December 6th, 2013 by Lenard Kamwendo

APTOPIX South Africa Mandela

Photo credit: New York Times

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” – Nelson Mandela

Today the world mourns the death of an anti-apartheid icon and former president of South Africa. A man who tirelessly dedicated his life to the struggle so that the nation of South Africa could be liberated from racial oppression. Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela the first black president of South Africa is now at peace. The man who was once considered by the apartheid government to be the number one terrorist in South Africa in the 1950s has left behind a legacy of peace.

Mandela fought for a democratic, non-racial South Africa where both black and white people could live in harmony. After spending 27 years in prison, in part on Robben Island, Mandela served a five-year presidential term and then he retired from politics when the world was still expecting a lot from him.

Many African liberation icons have failed to emulate this feat. Mandela’s death comes at time when the African continent is not at peace as many people have lost lives through civil wars.

Mandela lived a lifetime of struggle which inspired a generation of activists and his has been an inspiration to all who are oppressed.

Review of the year 2013 in Zimbabwe

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Friday, December 6th, 2013 by Lenard Kamwendo

As the countdown to year-end begins lest we forget the bumpy road we traveled throughout the year in 2013.

We are now in December, it’s summer, and the heat is unbearable but political tensions have cooled down. There’s been a lot to write home about but very little to be proud of. The year ends under a dark cloud of poor service delivery. We spend most of the day without electricity while condemned to consume unsafe rations of water from local authorities.

In 2013 we saw the sailing in of a new constitution but questions still remain unanswered on whether to decentralize or to go the devolution path. The year was full of drama especially coming from the August House as some of the elected legislators were caught with their hands in the cookie jar of the Community Development Fund. This didn’t come as a surprise as their intentions were clear from the first day that they took office. And for their efforts spent on heckling and trading insults in Parliament, they were rewarded with hefty ‘sitting allowances’; very expensive cars and some even demanded residential stands as exit packages.

It was a competition to break the world record in flying hours as political parties in the inclusive government globetrotted to drum up support for their different causes at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer.

As the political game turned out to be nasty in 2013 we were subjected to hurling of insults and obscenities. Fellow countrymen and women especially from the Civil Society were accused of unpatriotic behavior and prison became a second home for human rights defenders.

We endured threats of election every day during the life span of the inclusive government and by grace the year 2013 brought an end to these threats. In politics its either you win or lose and the most difficult part is moving on. Up to now the debate on “credible” or “free and fair” rages on but a few still have the energy to engage.

A new government took office but the challenges have remained the same.

The announcement of the national budget was postponed owing to the liquidity crunch and as if that was not enough to kick start a new five-year term in office we got a taste of another Operation Murambatsvina some urban dwellers bracing for government’s clamp down on the so-called illegal structures.

Getting to Zero through art on World AIDS day

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Monday, December 2nd, 2013 by Lenard Kamwendo

AIDS awareness in schools

Under the theme “Getting To Zero: Zero new infections. Zero deaths. Zero Discrimination” schools in Zimbabwe kicked off the World AIDS Day School Arts Festival commemorations in Harare last Friday at Allan Wilson High School.

Various schools drawn from several provinces across the nation converged in Harare to raise and strengthen HIV and AIDS awareness through debate, drama, poetry, song and dance. Art is a powerful tool to fight stigma associated with HIV and AIDS especially among children and youths. This year’s commemorations hosted by Let Them Trust saw schools battling it out for top honors in drama and poetry. Students urged society to fight AIDS through seeking early treatment, practicing safe sex, getting tested and abandoning cultural norms like spousal inheritance.

According to the National Aids Council, around 1,242,768 as people are living with HIV of which 941,0241 are AIDS orphans.

AIDS has left many children in Zimbabwe vulnerable. The effect of AIDS has resulted in many children dropping out school to become parents at a tender age. Left with no coping strategies most of these children end up on the streets begging and exposed to sexual abuse, especially young girls. The economic situation in the country has seen an increase in spousal separation as people cross borders to neighbouring countries in search for jobs. As highlighted in one of the plays, the battle to reduce the HIV prevalence rate takes the collective effort of the whole community.

Recently it was reported in the press that the HIV prevalence rate in Zimbabwe is on the up and this has been attributed to the economic challenges we are facing. In addition, the delay by men to visit health institutions, and inconsistent treatment uptake has also been one of the major setbacks in the fight against AIDS in Zimbabwe.

The after effects of operation restore order

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Thursday, November 14th, 2013 by Lenard Kamwendo

Recent statements by the government that they will build new houses for victims of the recently announced government clampdown on illegal structures brings back memories of the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina.

I remember in 2005 when the government of Zimbabwe pulled down “illegal structures” many people were promised decent accommodation under Garikai/Hlalani Khule but were later dumped at Caledonia Farm near Tafara on the outskirts of Harare. Only a handful benefited from Operation Garikai/Hlalani Khule as the allocation process was done on party lines.

From one “Operation” to another seven years on government of Zimbabwe issues another warning to get rid of all illegal structures in urban settlements. After Operation Murambatsvina it was promised that service delivery would improve and sanity would prevail in urban areas but most urban areas still face water shortages, the roads are a disgrace and sewage outbursts are perennial rivers in most high-density areas.

Fancy a sizzling carcinogenic chicken?

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Thursday, October 31st, 2013 by Lenard Kamwendo

An afternoon stroll down the streets of Harare shows how we Zimbabweans just love our food especially chicken and chips. Almost every vacant building in the city center is being turned into a food court. Anyway who doesn’t fancy sizzling hot wings for lunch especially after going through the grind of looking for the money?

Since our chicken farmers took an early vacation we now have to rely on imports from as far away as Brazil as well as neighboring countries to meet the demand. Like all cheap imports coming into Zimbabwe not much concern has been raised over the quality of food we take into our bodies. Maybe we have been silently munching on cancerous chicken for sometime. Instead of producing our own local chickens we now prefer chemical infested dead chickens from other countries.

Not appetizing to know that chickens are being preserved just the same way we do to corpses. You cannot expect much from these countries we trust so dearly as reliable sources of food for our country as some them have their own food safety problems to deal with.

A sad tale indeed of what used to be the break basket of Africa. As long as we don’t prioritise our own chicken farming and other industries the sad realities of dangerous imports will continue to live with us.

Marking World Internet Day under a dark cloud of snooping

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Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 by Lenard Kamwendo

The 29th of October is celebrated the world over as International Internet Day and today Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorations. The sharing of information is now just a click of a button away. A conversation, which used to cost a couple of dollars to make, can now be made with a few cents. The Internet has brought communities closer closing on the gaps created by physical barriers of distance.

The first Internet message was sent in 1969 by Professor Leonard Kleinrock from a computer laboratory at University of California in Los Angeles and from there the world witnessed the invention of electronic mail by Ray Tomlinson in late 1971.

According to Internet World Stats, Africa has 167,335,676 Internet users complemented by a 15.6% penetration rate. Despite the challenges of exorbitant Internet costs and the unavailability of infrastructure in most African countries, Zimbabwe has experienced a huge leap in internet usage from 50,000 users in 2000 to around 1,981,277 internet users in 2012.

As the Internet continues to grow so is the government’s interest in monitoring and eavesdropping on citizens. The Internet is used to perpetrate human right abuses under the guise of the protection of national security. A report by Freedom House notes that internet freedom worldwide is on the decline, with 34 out of 60 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory. Growing arrests of social media users and the control of web content can be attributed to the sharp decline in internet freedom in the past year and Zimbabwe is among such countries where the state continues to have the authority to monitor and intercept ICT communications at will.